Alberta’s RCMP is undertaking a pilot project to improve communications with community peace officers after safety concerns were raised by rural municipalities.
Foothills County voted to send a resolution to Rural Municipalities of Alberta highlighting what they see as an unsafe communications gap between Mounties and peace officers.
The resolution, which was seconded by Lacombe County last week, highlights several incidents where peace officers were unwittingly involved in potentially dangerous situations because they could not monitor RCMP encrypted radio calls.
An Oct. 10 Alberta Justice bulletin says the RCMP is aware of concerns and will be running a six-month pilot project at two sites.
At the conclusion of the pilot projects, consideration will be given to expanding access to peace officers, on a case-by-case basis, “taking into consideration structure and logistical challenges at each detachment,” says the bulletin issued by Tammy Spink, manager of the province’s peace officer program.
“Strict control over the access to radio communications that involve the RCMP is the essential criteria in the assessment process.”
Spink cautions that not all authorized employers and their community peace officers may have access to the RCMP’s encrypted communication system when the review has been completed.
“However, all potential avenues to have direct communication with the RCMP will be explored and communicated.”
Dave Brand, Red Deer County’s director of community and protective services, supports the RCMP’s pilot project, which will be similar to an initiative the county is undertaking along with the City of Lacombe, Lacombe Police Service and Lacombe County.
They are rolling out their own pilot project that will set aside a single radio channel where all four Lacombe police officers and the three municipalities can communicate with each other.
“What that does is that provides a consistent, single source of information and monitoring and radio contact, where we’re all on a shared radio channel,” said Brand.
“We’re looking at those challenges of how do we all communicate with each other? How do we ensure officer safety, and how do we ensure we know where officers are all the time?”
Another advantage of the collaboration is that peace officers will be able to get more information through the Canadian Police Information Centre. As an accredited police agency, Lacombe Police Service has access to more information through the centre that can now be shared with the other pilot project partners.
One of the incidents Foothills County pointed to was a car jacking at gunpoint that followed a collision with a school bus near Red Deer Regional Airport in January.
The backgrounder suggests the county’s community peace officers were left in the dark that a gunman was involved. However, Brand said the local detachment phoned the county to alert them to the dangerous situation.
“Our relationships with our local detachments are great,” he said. “If there is something major, they’re really, really good about trying to keep us in the loop. Of course, understanding the pace at which an incident unfolds.”
Brand said he also fully understands and respects why the RCMP want to ensure sensitive information is protected.