The Alberta government’s plan to enlist fish and wildlife officers, sheriffs and commercial vehicle inspectors in the battle against rural crime has raised concerns on many fronts, says the union presenting them.
Rushing ahead with special training for the officers, who will be expected to help out the RCMP on 911 calls as part of the Rural Alberta Provincial Integrated Defence Response Team (RAPID), in the midst of a pandemic is putting them and other Albertans at risk, said Mike Dempsey, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.
The union wants the province to pause training until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
About 115 fish and wildlife officers — including 10 from central Alberta — began training this week. About 300 Sheriff Highway Patrol officers are expected to be added to RAPID later in the year.
Dempsey said it is too risky bringing in fish and wildlife officers from across the province to train at Rexall Centre in Edmonton and a training facility in Hinton. Officers will be in close proximity and will be sharing bedrooms and bathrooms at the Hinton facility.
“This is a pretty serious safety concern.”
Pandemic issues are just one example of the many uncertainties that still surround the province’s crime fighting plan.
Dempsey said reaction is a “mixed bag” among the more than 400 AUPE members to the potential of being called to race to the scene of a shooting or other serious crime normally left to the RCMP or municipal police forces.
“You’ll be doing this besides your regular job, and it will require more training and it’s more dangerous.”
At first, the government left the impression that the officers would get more pay to reflect their expanded role. But that seems to have been dropped and union members could instead see a four per cent pay cut as part of an across-the-board wage reduction being considered.
The union will continue to lobby the province for more pay and there is hope once training is completed the money might be there.