Red Deer ponders municipal police force

The cost of creating a municipal police force was much too big for one British Columbia city, which, like Red Deer, pondered the merits of replacing the Mounties.

An RCMP officer makes notes following a four-vehicle collision that injured one person and closed southbound 30th Avenue at 32nd Street Wednesday.

The cost of creating a municipal police force was much too big for one British Columbia city, which, like Red Deer, pondered the merits of replacing the Mounties.

Surrey, a city of 465,000, conducted a one-year, $150,000 study more than 10 years ago to see if a municipal police force was worth starting up. According to information published in the Surrey Leader in 2001, start-up costs would total $3 million and annual operating costs would be nearly $2 million more than the RCMP contract.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts said the RCMP allows the municipality to share policing resources with other communities throughout B.C. This makes it cheaper for the municipality.

The RCMP were also becoming more responsive to the city’s needs and in fact after the study was done, decided to have a minimum five-year stay for its officers.

“We’re the largest RCMP detachment in the country and it works very well for us,” Watts said.

There are no plans to do any policing review, Watts added.

The City of Red Deer recently announced it would do a policing review next year, including a review of the RCMP contract.

An informal online poll done by the Advocate last week showed a high level of support to keep the RCMP in Red Deer, a city of almost 90,000 people.

A total of 96 readers, or 34 per cent, voted in favour of a municipal force versus 184 votes or 65 per cent against.

Supt. Brian Simpson of the Red Deer City RCMP has said he anticipates the RCMP will stay in Red Deer following a policing review.

Representatives of two communities in Alberta say they will keep their own municipal police force and have no desire to have the Mounties move in.

Lacombe Mayor Judy Gordon said that the town of nearly 12,000 people has had its own municipal force for more than 100 years.

Having a municipal force allows for more decision making at the local level, while the RCMP receive a lot of direction from Ottawa, she said.

“Every now and then we talk about (the RCMP), but at the end of the day, we’re very proud of our municipal police force and they do an excellent job,” said Gordon.

Lacombe Police Service has 13 officers, plus Chief Gary Leslie.

Lethbridge has had its own service since 1902 and has since developed into a regional police service, serving the town of Coaldale as well.

Mayor Bob Tarleck said policing represents the largest single item in the city’s operational budget, or a total of 22.5 per cent.

In 2009, policing totalled $22.4 million and next year, it’s anticipated to be $23.6 million.

“If we were only looking at costs, we’d probably get rid of our service and go with the RCMP,” he said.

The city has 154 officers, plus 43 support staff.

“If we want to establish a task force or put more officers on the street, we can do that,” Tarleck said. “We have the authority to do that. I think it’s a little more difficult with the RCMP because they don’t always have the resources to respond as quickly.”

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