Red Deer’s policing review found the RCMP is more cost-effective than a municipal force.
But the mayor of a central Alberta city with its own police service isn’t convinced that’s true.
“I could see that it would be more expensive initially,” to switch over from using the RCMP, said Lacombe Mayor Grant Creasey.
His community never had to make this kind of transition, since Lacombe has had a municipal police force since about 1907.
“But I have a hard time imagining that it would be operationally more expensive over the long run,” Creasey added.
In a review done to determine if sticking with the RCMP, or switching to a municipal force, would be most efficient for Red Deer, consultants found taxpayers would pay $13.5 million over two to four years to make the switch, then about $6 million more in annual operational funding to run a municipal force.
Lacombe is one of a handful of Alberta communities that handle their own policing. Others are in Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Taber and Camrose.
Creasey said his municipal force doesn’t work in a vacuum, and doesn’t have to replicate a lot of RCMP services. The Lacombe police regularly collaborates with the national force to solve crimes that cross jurisdictional boundaries, or are serious cases, such as murder.
Creasey said the city force contracts with the RCMP on a fee-for-service basis for use of its crime lab, forensics staff and other specialized services.
Lacombe police also has ties with the Edmonton and Calgary police services for purchasing supplies, for accessing some equipment and for training opportunities.
“We belong to the same association,” Creasey added.
Perhaps the biggest positive in having a municipal force — and, conversely, the reason Red Deer city council is occasionally dissatisfied with the RCMP — is that a local force gives municipal governments more control over how local policing efforts are deployed.
“You can have some influence in directing the priorities,” said Creasey — and the new initiatives can be brought about relatively quickly.
He noted that municipal police officers tend to settle down and become part of the community, whereas RCMP members can be transferred to other centres.
“There’s a sense of community pride in the force,” added the mayor, who believes Lacombe police offers “a very high degree of service” — which is borne out by the high grades the force earns in public surveys.
“But its a double-edged sword,” cautioned Creasey.
Because a municipal police force stirs a greater sense of local ownership, he believes it also raises citizen expectations.
And it adds another level of complexity to municipal government.
Lacombe has a policing commission that the local police chief sits on. It’s a volunteer board, but Creasey said there’s a cost to handling the additional administrative work it generates.
At this time, Lacombe’s greatest policing challenge is making up sources of revenue that the province recently removed. There is now less money from traffic ticket fines staying in municipalities, and a freeze on all new photo radar programs until they are studied by the province.
As a result, there’s a hiring delay in filling some positions, said Creasey, and reserve funds have had to be transferred over to balance the budget.
Lacombe has been fielding a surge of interest about its police force lately from other communities that are also grappling with crime stemming from Alberta’s opioid crisis, said Creasey.
He commends the City of Red Deer for trying to get the best value and efficiency for the tax dollars spent on policing.
“It’s a responsible thing to do, and I wish them all the luck in the world to be able to compare (police services). It’s a very difficult process.”
Red Deer city council will be discussing the issue again in the spring.