Lacombe County questions provincial police cost-sharing proposal

Residents will expect more police protection if their taxes pay part of the cost, says county

How can Lacombe County justify spending more tax dollars on policing if it doesn’t mean better protection for residents, asked Reeve Paula Law on Thursday.

“How do you look (taxpayers) in the eye and say you’ve been broken into eight times, or (thieves) were on your property eight times, and there’s absolutely no increased (police) service?” Law asked Lacombe-Ponoka MLA Ron Orr, who came to council to hear their concerns on a laundry list of issues.

The province has floated a proposal to require small communities and rural municipalities to pick up a share of policing costs, ranging from 15 to 70 per cent.

Communities under 5,000 and counties and municipal districts have not previously been required to pay for policing.

Municipalities were irked that the proposal — at least initially — came with no commitment it would mean additional police coverage.

Law pointed out most RCMP detachments are understaffed as it is.

“How can we have expectations of paying for something that’s not there now?” she said.

Orr said no decision had been made yet on policing cost sharing, but the province has assured council that the province is committed to doing more to tackle crime.

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer has pledged to hire an additional 500 RCMP officers, specifically dedicated to rural areas.

The Alberta government is looking at adding the officers over three years, a time line the RCMP says it can meet, he said.

To further beef up policing, the government has committed to spending another $50 million on Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams, which pull together police agencies to focus on serious crimes.

The province is also looking at more drug and traffic courts to streamline the court system. Recognizing that drugs are often at the root of crime, $50 million more has been committed to treatment centres, he said.

Coun. Ken Wigmore said while adding more officers may help, it will not address problems with the justice system, which many rural residents have complained goes too easy on repeat offenders.

“I think the police are doing the best they can do,” said Wigmore, who is president of Red Deer-Lacombe Rural Crime Watch.

Lacombe County, along with Red Deer and Ponoka counties, are among Alberta municipalities that have already beefed up policing at their own expense.

Lacombe and Red Deer counties agreed to split the cost of hiring a pair of general investigative officers to focus on rural crime. The agreement costs Lacombe County about $150,000 a year.

Orr agreed justice system improvements are needed. While he recognizes that Crown prosecutors must do their own legal triage — focusing on the most serious cases first — he questions the wisdom of allowing minor crimes to go unpunished.

Criminals have been conditioned to believe there will be no consequences, and will think, “I can get away with it. Who cares? Nobody’s going to do anything anyway.”

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