Crossfield officials are eagerly awaiting further consultation with the provincial government regarding the United Conservative Party’s (UCP) provincial police proposal that promises 275 more rural front-line officers to police Alberta communities.
Alberta Justice Minister Tyler Shandro announced on Aug. 23 the government’s plan to implement a provincial police force to replace the RCMP, together with hundreds of additional officers stationed in Alberta’s 42 smallest detachments.
Crossfield mayor Kim Harris said the Town of Crossfield is scheduled to meet with Shandro next week to discuss the police plan and to provide feedback from a municipal perspective.
“The Town of Crossfield will stand firm that municipalities should be engaged throughout the entire process if this is the direction the province is headed,” Harris said, adding it is important to ensure “that the cost of a new provincial police force will not exceed what municipalities currently pay.”
The mayor added thus far, Crossfield and other rural municipalities have not had any proper engagement with Alberta’s government regarding the provincial police blueprint. She added the upcoming meeting with Shandro should bring some more clarity to the situation.
“[It should] bring clarification on whether or not the province will be going through with this or not,” she said. “We’re looking for that through engagement, not only this time, but if the province decides to go and use this model, Crossfield feels municipalities should be engaged throughout the entire process.”
Having mulled the idea of a provincial force since last year, the Alberta government is currently deciding next steps, following the release of a third-party analysis last fall of the proposal for a made-in-Alberta police force. According to a PriceWaterhouseCoopers report, the plan would cost Alberta hundreds of millions extra to start up.
Mayor Harris said the biggest deterrent for Crossfield is the potential higher cost downloaded onto municipalities.
“We haven’t been shown the true cost,” she said. “If it costs any more than what we’re paying now, municipalities can’t afford that.”
If the plan is to go ahead with a provincial policing service, Harris said the Town of Crossfield will stand firm in its stance the extra cost must not be passed onto rural municipalities.
“We have the bottom line where we can’t go over budget and something like this, even the retroactive pay that is still up in the air will put municipalities into debt,” she said
During his press conference, Shandro stated the cost associated with the additional services would not impact municipal budgets, but many mayors of Alberta towns and villages feel there are still too many unknowns to voice support for the idea.
According to an official statement issued by Rocky View County, the municipality is continuing to monitor and review provincial policing plans and is looking forward to further deliberations.
“While we appreciate that the province is focused on ensuring Albertans receive the best possible police service, we encourage fulsome discussion and access to information to address the issues that Albertans continue to raise. [Issues] such as costs, service delivery, and improved rural policing," the County’s statement read.
The provincial police blueprint proposes 65 to 85 community detachments with a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 80 officers working at each.
The plan also includes service-hub detachments with between 48 and 192 officers, as well as three urban detachments that will serve larger communities and function as regional headquarters.
According to Shandro, currently, there is no minimum number of officers stationed at each RCMP detachment. He added a homegrown police force would provide more comprehensive policing for all regions, with improved response times.
“I’m often asked why the government is looking at the idea of a provincial police service and the answer is simple...we have a duty as Alberta’s government to consider whether new and innovative approaches to policing can make our community safer,” Shandro said in the Aug. 23 press conference.
“We can also make access to mental health, addictions, family crisis services and other specialized police services more accessible to all communities across Alberta.”
The minister added the proposed model would give municipalities greater control in decision-making regarding their policing.
“One of the benefits of having a police service, one that has civilian oversight that falls under the police act or provincial legislation, is allowing civilians like us to have decisions about the deployment of resources and the budget of police services,” Shandro said.
“We do need to have modern police governance to be able to have a greater say in the deployment of resources, and our communities have a greater say over recruitment strategies over budgeting.
“And that’s why I think Albertans are interested in having these discussions.”
The Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) – an independent association comprised of Alberta’s 69 counties and municipal districts – said it supports keeping the RCMP. The association stated it opposed the idea of a provincial police force because the Province had failed to demonstrate how it would increase service levels in rural communities.
Additionally, there are 70 municipalities that have signed a letter asking the UCP to stop its plans to create a provincial police force. The letter petitioned the government for resources to be put towards supporting the RCMP officers and improving social services instead.
According to Harris, small towns have limited resources when it comes to policing, adding Crossfield is home to only one RCMP and municipal enforcement officer, both with unique roles in policing the community.
“We have seen an increase in petty theft, some property damage, and even a couple of armed robberies,” Harris said. “For me, the safety of our residents and our business is top of mind always.”
She added Crossfield is looking for a little more engagement with the province to get the “full story” before deciding which side of the fence the municipality lies.
“We know the ins and outs of what that blueprint is, and it may all sound good on paper, but we don’t know that yet,” she said.