Rural municipal representatives are hopeful new RCMP support positions will allow officers on the ground to spend more time crime fighting.
Al Kemmere, president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta, which represents 69 counties and municipal districts, said a senior police officer told him that in the 1980s, processing a drunk driving offence took about 90 minutes. Now, it’s four hours.
The officer told him, “I’m no longer doing police work. I’m doing paperwork.”
The province announced on Thursday that 46 positions — 43 officers and three civilians — had been filled as part of the strategy to tackle rural crime.
That included 25 frontline rural police positions, including 10 in central Alberta. Rocky Mountain House is getting two new officers and one each are going to Camrose, Blackfalds, Leduc, Morinville, Parkland, Stettler, Strathcona and Thorsby.
Eighteen officers are expected to be based out of Edmonton and Calgary and will provide support and specialized services to rural detachments. Three civilian positions have been added to provide administrative and program support.
In all, 76 RCMP officers and 57 new civilian support positions are expected to be added during the province’s 2020-21 budget year. Eventually, 300 officers and 200 civilians will be hired.
While some municipal leaders have questions about the large Edmonton and Calgary contingent, Kemmere believes the support will be valuable to rural detachments.
“As much as I want to see more presence from the RCMP in our rural municipalities, I still realize there is a system here that needs to have that other support too.
“As long as we can see a better service level long-term for our rural municipalities, that’s what we need. I’m not going to be too critical of the mechanisms of the RCMP at this time.”
Now that rural municipalities and communities under 5,000 people are required to pay 10 per cent of their policing costs — rising to 30 per cent by 2023 — Kemmere is sure rural taxpayer expectations will rise as that line item on their tax bills increases.
“When (taxpayers) start seeing that, people are going to say, ‘Wait a minute, how about us.’
“By that time, we may see a stronger presence.”
For Mountain View County, where Kemmere is a councillor, this year’s policing bill was $256,000 and will rise to $1.1 million.
Lacombe County Coun. Ken Wigmore said regardless of how many officers are hired, it will have only a limited impact when the courts immediately free suspected criminals after their arrest, and they immediately continue their old ways.
However, he also sees the advantage in providing the support that officers need so they can spend more time patrolling, responding to calls and making arrests.
“They’ve told us for a long time that it was not a good use of an officer’s time to spend half a day writing a report,” said Wigmore, who is president of the Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Crime Watch.
“I think that has a lot of merit to it.”
Wigmore also believes RCMP officers should be relieved of other duties, such as making well-being checks on people in most cases.
“I think that should be (Alberta Health Services’) job, if anything.”