Rural municipalities take RCMP funding into their own hands

Frustrated by rural crime, a pair of Central Alberta municipalities put their money where their mouths are.

Councils from Lacombe and Red Deer Counties agreed earlier this year to bankroll a pair of plainclothes RCMP officers, whose focus will be on rural crime.

Forking out municipal cash for RCMP help is not without precedent. Lacombe County has provided funding to share the cost of an RCMP school liaison officer.

But this is different. The two new hires will be specifically aimed at investigating rural property crimes, habitual offenders and crimes requiring lengthier investigations. The general investigative services (GIS) officer would work with Central Alberta counterparts in Red Deer and other communities, such as Sylvan Lake, which has one GIS officer.

In making his pitch to the counties, Blackfalds RCMP Staff Sgt. Ken Morrison said that the money was not in the RCMP budget to hire the officers. If the counties want the officers, they will have to pay.

Lacombe County agreed to a three-year agreement that will cost the county $462,000. In March, Red Deer County made a similar commitment to spend up to $115,000 per year for a GIS officer.

He is hoping to have the first position filled in April, with the second officer showing up by July.

The initiative has not gone unnoticed in policing circles.

“I’ve had a lot of interest from other detachment commanders, who are interested in what we’re doing,” said Morrison.

Innisfail, Bashaw and Sylvan Lake detachments have already agreed to work in collaboration with the new officers. Innisfail and Sylvan Lake each have a GIS officer so joining forces effectively creates a four-person unit.

“We’re trying to put our resources together to make it even bigger and better,” he said, adding the partnership will make it much easier and faster to share intelligence.

Other municipalities have also been intrigued by the possibilities.

“We’re in early conversations with one of the communities that we police. They’re interested in an enhanced-type of agreement.

“Most definitely, the public and the communities at large are fairly excited about seeing the addition of these two police officers and their ability to focus on the more prolific crimes occurring.

“Everywhere I go I’m asked when are these going to be filled,” he said, adding county councillors have told him they are getting the same questions.

Morrison said he was well aware of the financial demands on municipalities when he pitched his proposal and there was no guarantee he would get a “yes.”

“But both counties have been very supportive of the initiative and are, I think, are really looking forward to seeing how this program works over the next few years and to see how it makes a difference.”

Morrison said while the initiative is not competely unique, it is a different approach.

“It is something that’s kind of thinking outside the box and we can provide a better service to the public out there and try ton slow down some of these criminals in the rural areas.”

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