Ten additional police officers have been approved by Red Deer city council to help put a serious dent in local crime.
Alarmed by rising break-ins and Red Deer’s standing as one of the highest crime cities in Canada, Coun. Vesna Higham began Wednesday’s debate by proposing to add two extra officers to the previously suggested eight.
“I feel we owe (this) to our community,” she said, noting comparisons between Red Deer and Lethbridge shows our city’s police officers are seriously under staffed and over-worked.
Higham won over the majority on council by revealing that Red Deer, with a slightly higher population than Lethbridge, had fewer police officers than the southern Alberta city — and officers with more than double the average caseload as Lethbridge.
To keep the budget item at nearly the same $1.5-million dollar value as the previous proposal, she suggesting adding zero new RCMP civilian members to the local force, rather than the three city administrators had recommended.
Only Coun. Dianne Wyntjes voted against this — not because she wasn’t concerned about rising crime, but because she feared criminal cases would get thrown out of court if there weren’t enough administrative staff to support the growing caseload.
Red Deer will now have 170 RCMP officers, instead of 160 — but residents won‘t be impressed if police work comes to nothing because of incomplete paperwork, said Wyntjes.
Higham responded that the matter can be brought back to council at the mid-year budget if the civilian staff quotient is found to be lacking.
“If we can have two more trained officers rather than three civilian employees, I will take more officers in a heart-beat,” she said, noting the 10 officers will cost $1.53 million and provide the RCMP with more time for proactive policing.
Coun. Buck Buchanan questioned what’s to guarantee that the additional officers would be deployed in the manner council wishes to address downtown crime. “Whether we hire four or eight or 10 or 12,” it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be front-line officers, he said.
“Ultimately it’s up to council to ensure they are satisfied with what they are getting,” responded city manager Craig Curtis, who had previously suggested a memorandum of understanding could be reached with RCMP commanders.
While studies have shown that adding more civilian employees can free up time for officers to work on cases, the city’s director of protective services, Paul Goranson, said there is no advisable ratio for police officers versus civilians.
Coun. Michael Dawe supported adding 10 officers, but stressed that policing is only part of the solution.
Red Deer badly needs a long-sought-after addictions treatment centre, more mental health programming, and other services to tackle the underlying social problems that are fuelling the city’s crime problem, he added.