Weighing a municipal force versus an RCMP detachment

It’s been six years since the city undertook an extensive review of its policing model, but that hasn’t stopped some councillors from trying to reopen the issue.

Most recently, Coun. Dianne Wyntjes introduced a motion in late 2016 to explore a hybrid policing model that would combine RCMP with a municipal force.

“It’s important that we look at any opportunity that could provide better public safety,” said Wyntjes.

Coun. Buck Buchanan, a former RCMP officer, strongly supported the motion, but the motion was defeated in a 3-3 tie vote.

After the fall election Coun. Michael Dawe expressed renewed interest in exploring the issue. He said crime was the issue he heard the most while campaigning.

“What I would like to do is bring it (hybrid policing model) forward again and see what it would mean,” said Dawe. “What would it cost, what are the practicalities and go from there.”

Red Deer has the largest RCMP detachment in Alberta and one of the largest in the country.

With a population of 98,832 in 2016, Red Deer is often compared to Lethbridge (est. pop. 97,198), which has operated a municipal force since 1902.

Lethbridge paid less money for more police officers, a lower crime severity index number and a higher rate of the resolution of criminal incidents in 2016.

According to Statistics Canada, Lethbridge scored 121.56 compared with Red Deer’s 206.87 on the 2016 crime severity index.

As well Lethbridge had a higher weighted clearance rate (a measure of the resolution of criminal incidents that factors in crime severity) at 50.94 to Red Deer’s 18.83.

The Lethbridge Police Service cost $35,851,327 in 2016. The force employs 167 officers, 61 civilian employees and 45 victim/witness services volunteers.

Paul Goranson, Red Deer’s director of Protective Services, said comparing how much Lethbridge spends on its police force may not be directly comparable to how much Red Deer does because they may be structured differently. As well, how the city finances account for the policing can vary by city and style.

“You have to be careful how you compare with other municipalities,” said Goranson. “We find other municipalities and services parse things out differently.

“We group all of our municipal employees and police officers under the same package.”

According to the City of Red Deer’s 2016 operating budget, the city spent $38,237,000 on protective services. The Red Deer RCMP detachment has 161 officers.

Of that budget, the RCMP cost $24,047,000. The municipality is on the hook for 90 per cent of the policing costs because of their contract with the RCMP. The federal government pays the other 10 per cent. The city has a contract with the RCMP until 2022.

“All the municipal staff and community peace officers that are under the policing branch,” said Goranson. “They’re all included in that total as well. “We haven’t done a comprehensive review for a number of years now.”

Red Deer’s community peace officers also help enforcing traffic laws and community safety and supporting the RCMP. Lethbridge’s police force rolls many of those functions into what its officers do.

The $38 million also includes funding for the 111 municipal and casual staff who work in the protective services division. Policing comprises 19 per cent of the city’s operating budget. Goranson also said the contract with the RCMP gives Red Deer access to resources the national force has, such as the helicopter that is used intermittently.

For the 2011 report, the city hired a consultant to look at different policing models and compare them to other communities.

It broke down numerous elements of a municipal police force or an RCMP detachment such as training and recruiting nationally or locally; access to specialized services such as the helicopter or special investigations and a police commission overseeing the force versus the officer in charge reporting to the mayor.


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