Policing and public safety was once again a big issue in 2020.
Statistics released earlier in the year showed Red Deer experienced more crime in 2019 than a year earlier.
The crime severity index was up about 16 per cent in 2019 (197.95) compared to 2018 (170.75).
The violent crime severity index, for offences such as murder, robbery, sexual assault and assaults, was up 36.92 per cent (155.62 in 2019 and 113.66 in 2018).
The non-violent, non-person crime severity index was up 11.44 per cent – 212.71 in 2019, compared with 190.88 in 2018. These crimes include thefts of motor vehicles, theft from motor vehicles and house break-ins.
Red Deer RCMP Supt. Gerald Grobmeier said in November that “an increase is something we never want to see,” but warned the numbers don’t paint a true picture of where the city is at.
Most of that spike came from the first quarter of 2019, and by the end of the year, numbers went down, he said.
“January, February, March of 2019 were a difficult time in Red Deer for crime, so we had a significant spike, and throughout the rest of the year, we saw the numbers come down, and the last two quarters were either equal to or better than 2018.”
In 2020, the same decreasing trend continued.
There was much discussion locally about public safety when Maclean’s magazine ranked Red Deer as 10th most dangerous place in Canada in November 2019. Those numbers were based on the crime severity index in 2018.
Early in 2020, Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT) released its 2019 statistics. It was the crime-fighting group’s most successful year since it was set up in 2006.
Across the province, 1,402 criminal charges were laid against 241 suspects, 92 firearms were seized and $4 million in cash was seized. And nearly $13 million worth of cocaine, fentanyl and methamphetamine was taken off the streets.
The agency pulls together RCMP, nearly a dozen municipal police forces, sheriffs and other enforcement agencies in a 300-person unit, including about 15 in the Red Deer region.
In Red Deer, 32 suspects were arrested last year and $107,000 in drugs seized. There were 373 charges laid in the Red Deer region, the most among ALERT’s seven regions.
When budget debate rolled around at the end of the year Red Deer city council decided to keep the policing budget as is, making only minor changes for inflation and contractual requirements that boosted the budget to $39.6 million from about $38 million.
The city is paying for about 173 RCMP officers — which is as close to a full contingent as the city has had in many years, said city manager Allan Seabrooke.
Mayor Tara Veer said in December there was no question of reducing next year’s police budget since Red Deerians have waited a decade to get a downtown police patrol and finally have a full contingent of officers.
This year also saw rural municipalities contributing to 10 per cent of policing costs. Small communities under 5,000 also had to pay 10 per cent of policing costs, a bill that will increase to 30 per cent by 2022.
Rural municipal representatives are hopeful new RCMP support positions will allow officers on the ground to spend more time crime fighting.
Al Kemmere, then-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 province announced in July 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.