If change requires extra spending, Coun. Buck Buchanan doubts anything will come out of next week’s meeting exploring whether the RCMP should be replaced with a municipal police force.
“If it costs more money, council won’t be prepared to spend it,” predicted the Red Deer city councillor and former police officer.
Buchanan is among some city councillors who are frustrated by what they believe has been RCMP inaction and lack of accountability to city priorities.
These concerns will be aired again Tuesday, when city councillors are planning to further discuss the results of a police review first presented in December.
But there’s a high cost to Red Deer starting its own municipal police force — an estimated $13.5 million, according to the review.
And, considering the slow economy and drop in city revenues and provincial funding, Buchanan feels most of council won’t support making this kind of change.
Buchanan is disappointed the latest consultant’s report didn’t consider options such as having a hybrid force. Instead, data was collected comparing the RCMP to a municipal police force and found the RCMP provides a high service level and is cheaper.
If the city sticks with the RCMP, the report noted it wouldn’t have to buy a fleet of municipal police vehicles and equipment, set up a municipal dispatch system, and lose out on some economies of scale in current RCMP purchasing.
“What I would like to get is better service for the people of Red Deer,” said Buchanan.
While RCMP officers do a good job of catching criminals, he feels the national policing organization takes too long to bring on innovations, to respond to municipal priorities, and be accountable to the city.
The councillor maintains it took years of negotiations to get the RCMP to commit to forming a downtown beat patrol.
Buchanan hoped that other alternatives would be considered in this third or fourth policing review to be instigated by the city in the past 25 years.
He believes the city could employ municipal police officers to respond to basic calls, then contract with the RCMP for higher level investigations of more serious crimes. But KPMG consultants told council that since a pre-existing model doesn’t exist for a hybrid force, they didn’t explore the idea.
Neighbouring municipalities were asked whether they would like to form a regional force with the City of Red Deer, but city council was told they weren’t interested because they pay little towards their policing costs now.
But Coun. Lawrence Lee thinks this attitude could change if the spring provincial budget requires them to start paying for some RCMP members. Each officer costs about $150,000 annually in salary and equipment.
Lee hopes to get answers on Tuesday about Surrey, B.C.’s experience in switching from the RCMP to a municipal force, including how much their start-up costs were.
Coun. Tanya Handley wants to know how soon collision centres, which can be run by civilians to take reports on car crashes, can be introduced to Red Deer.
She’s concerned about the time it takes for the RCMP to adopt new technologies, such as installing data recorders in vehicles that can reduce paperwork for police officers, freeing them up to fight crime.
The public meeting starts at 1 p.m. in city council chambers.