The Alberta government plans to increase the number of staff in rural RCMP detachments by more than 500 positions.
Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer announced a new funding model Wednesday, calling it the single largest overall investment in rural policing since the March West, when law enforcement arrived in 1874.
Small and rural communities, with some exceptions, will begin contributing to a portion of their front-line policing costs— 10 per cent in 2020, rising to 15 per cent in 2021, 20 per cent in 2022 and 30 per cent in 2023.
Caroline Mayor John Rimmer calls the announcement a “good first step, but it isn’t the solution.”
“More police officers isn’t a bad thing, but as far as what we start paying, that might be a little bit different,” he said, adding the municipality has yet to crunch the numbers.
Policing costs for each community will be determined by the municipal tax base and population.
“It will put a strain on our budget,” said Rimmer.
Ken Wigmore, president of the Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Community Crime Watch, said Wednesday’s announcement “is good news, but it’s not great news.”
“RCMP are doing a great job as they are. Could they use more help? They definitely could.”
The biggest problem Wigmore sees is a broken justice system, with no severe penalties for criminals.
“I know we have drug courts and other things coming along that will probably help the situation,” Wigmore said.
The crime watch president said he hopes the additional RCMP officers will have an impact in rural Alberta, “but will it solve the problem? I’m not too sure.”
“It definitely will have a huge impact (financially) on rural municipalities,. We will have to pay for more and we have no say in how it works at all.”
Lacombe County Reeve Paula Law said the municipality is waiting for more information from the province. She noted where these new officers will be placed is not known.
“Any extra boots on the ground will be seen positively, but again, we don’t know where these officers will be going to. We don’t know how we will be affected at all, at this point,” Law said.
Rimmer believes the money would be better spent on local volunteer-led groups such as Citizens on Patrol and Rural Crime Watch, similar to volunteer fire services.
“That’s how I see it being solved, rather than money being thrown at it.
“Rural is way different than urban. We have vast areas and the criminals know that.”
The provincial model will inject $286 million over five years into front-line law enforcement.
Alberta is adding more than 500 RCMP positions in rural communities, including members to specialized RCMP units that dismantle organized crime and drug trafficking and investigate auto and scrap metal theft.
New civilian positions will assist with administrative tasks and investigative support to increase response times.
The Alberta NDP calls the move an historic tax grab, adding rural Albertans are being forced to pay more if they want additional police in their communities.
“The UCP is not putting a single dollar into this investment. Instead, they’re downloading $200 million to the municipalities of this province, municipalities who are already looking at cuts,” said NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley.