Central Albertans will be drawn to competing townhalls meetings this winter over whether Alberta should stick with the RCMP or starts a provincial police force.
Public forums are being held across the province by the union representing Mounties, which wants to give people reasons to hang on to the RCMP.
Meanwhile, Alberta Justice is holding its own meetings early this year with municipal and indigenous officials and public safety groups to discuss the benefits of Alberta forming its own police force. A public survey has also been promised.
In the midst of this tug o’ war over public opinion, Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston believes a bigger issue is not being discussed — inadequacies in the provincial justice system.
“Our courtrooms are plugged up, our Crown prosecutors are overworked, sentencing is an issue,” he said.
“Until we make some fundamental changes is how we look at our judicial system, well, I would say it’s a moot point, except that policing is far too important to be moot…”
Johnston doesn’t believe the most important question is who should do our policing. “I think our RCMP do a terrific job and I think municipal police forces in Medicine Hat, Calgary and Lethbridge to a terrific job too, ” he explained.
“When it comes to taking criminals through the justice system, that’s where the public frustration lies.”
The mayor believes the opening of Red Deer’s larger new Justice Centre in the spring of 2023 will help get more local criminal cases dealt with in a timely manner.
A drug court that opened last fall in Red Deer should also make a difference, said Johnston. ”I’m optimistic that, when given the choice of incarceration or (getting treatment), they will make the choice to get clean.”
But Red Deer could still use more Crown prosecutors, he said. And many area residents remain infuriated by the revolving door aspect of the justice system, which often seems to allow repeat offenders back onto the streets.
Johnston plans to attend the provincial government forum on policing in February.
But, considering that several reviews done to determine whether the City of Red Deer should start its own police force concluded that sticking with the RCMP was better value, Johnston isn’t sure the provincial police force plan will fly.
A PricewaterhouseCoopers study released in October estimated the transition to a provincial police force could cost Albertans $366 million, but suggested the move could result in a more locally responsive police force.
Johnston feels rural municipalities, in particular, would find the price too high since most of their RCMP costs are now covered by the federal government.
“Philosophically, it makes sense that if someone is born and raised in Red Deer, they would have greater ties to the community than someone who was dropped here from Moncton,” he said. But as a former banker, Johnston worked under the principle that bankers should be transferred every so often “to keep them sharp and alert and objective” — so he also sees the other side of the argument.
“If I grew up here and went to school with you and then would have to arrest you for something, what would that look like?”
The mayor hasn’t yet received an invite to a local town hall held by the Mountie union, the National Police Federation. A representative of the federation stated in an email Thursday that central Alberta will be in the second round of forums, which haven’t yet been scheduled. “Dates and venues are being finalized.”
More information is available at KeepAlbertaRCMP.ca. Public feedback can also be provided by contacting email@example.com.
For more information on the government’s viewpoint and stakeholder process, visit alberta.ca/provincial-police-service-engagement.aspx.