Red Deer city council agreed changes must be made to improve police enforcement and response times in the city.
But many councillors weren’t sure Coun. Dianne Wyntjes’s motion to explore a new hybrid policing model that would combine RCMP service with a municipal force was the immediate answer.
“It would be putting the cart before the horse,” said Coun. Lawrence Lee at Monday’s council meeting. He echoed comments made by Coun. Lynne Mulder about how the first priority should be exploring what kind of service levels are expected before looking at different policing models.
“We’re making an assumption the (existing RCMP) model is wrong … but we’re all saying the same thing: ‘Service, service, service,’ ” said Mulder. “We don’t know if a hybrid is the answer until we define what level of service we want, then we can match it up” to a model.
After much debate, Wyntjes’s motion was narrowly defeated by council and a new motion was put on the table.
Councillors instead agreed to: discuss local priorities in police enforcement; direct administration to bring back options for improving service levels on lower priority police calls; discuss ways of engaging the public on the topics of crime and public safety; and explore alternatives in police enforcement and service delivery.
Wyntjes supported the new motion, but was concerned that the “boots on the street” police officers, “who are already working damned hard” in dangerous situations, would feel council was implying they could be working harder.
Wyntjes felt her original motion could have provided more support to RCMP officers who were tied up on higher priority crimes and the paperwork needed o make their criminal cases stand up in court. “My previous resolution had more meat to it,” added Wyntjes, who believes the issue is more complex than deciding how quick police should be responding to lower priority calls, such as thefts from garages and cars.
But the ‘hybrid’ description was a stumbling block for Mayor Tara Veer, who believes Red Deer already has a hybrid model, supplementing RCMP enforcement with municipal traffic sheriffs. Judging by all the public concerns council has heard expressed about police not responding fast enough to lower priority calls, Veer said council needs to talk about service levels before exploring new models.
Coun. Buck Buchanan, a former police officer, strongly supported Wyntjes’s original motion, praising her for having the “guts and courage” to bring it forward. He noted he just got a call from a city resident last weekend who complained it took police four hours to respond to his complaint about having $5,000 worth of tools stolen from his garage.
“People are saying, why bother (calling police)? I’m not going to waste my time …”
Although City council explored replacing the RCMP with a municipal force a few years ago and decided the status quo was more cost effective, several councillors said there has been enough change recently to warrant opening up discussions again.