Grande Prairie votes to establish city police force, phase out RCMP

Following years of review of the RCMP service model, Grande Prairie's city council will create a new city police service. (Valerie Zink/Reuters - image credit)
Following years of review of the RCMP service model, Grande Prairie's city council will create a new city police service. (Valerie Zink/Reuters - image credit)

Grande Prairie is one step closer to establishing a municipal police force that would take over from the RCMP.

City council voted 8-1 to establish a city police force and to end its contract with Canada's national police service during a public meeting that began Monday afternoon and ended shortly after midnight.

RCMP will remain in the northern Alberta city while officers with the Grande Prairie Police Service are phased in over the next five years.

RCMP have policed Grande Prairie since 1937.

Jackie Clayton, mayor of Grande Prairie, said having a city police force will increase local oversight, cut down on bureaucracy, reduce policing costs and aid with officer retention and recruitment.

"Council does not take this decision lightly," Clayton told council.

"This is not a slight on any service that we've been provided with the RCMP for the many years we've been provided it.

"It's simply about finding the best service model for a community we care deeply about."

'Not the model that serves us'

Councillor Chris Thiessen, who cast the sole vote against the motion, urged council to delay a decision and give residents and council more time to understand the implications of the change.

Clayton said the change has been under review for years and is needed to strengthen safety in Grande Prairie and improve communication between police and local government.

"It's just not the model that serves us," she said. "There has been example after example where the RCMP machine can not be adaptive to community needs."

To start the transition, the city needs ministerial approval to form a municipal police service and change community policing methods.

Transitioning from the RCMP to a municipal police service is expected to cost $19 million but the province has committed to transitional funding. In February, Minister of Public Safety and Emergencies Mike Ellis announced the province would provide $9.7 million over two years.

Following Monday's vote, council will also need to pass a bylaw to establish a police commission and notify the federal government of its intention to transition away from the RCMP. It will provide notice by March 31.

Grande Prairie has been exploring the idea of a municipal force since 2021.  The city's review of the proposed swap included an analysis of current enforcement methods and public consultation.

In September 2022, the city commissioned MNP, paying the organization $250,000 to prepare a viability and transition study.

The MNP report indicated Grande Prairie leaders are worried about the long-term viability of having the RCMP police larger municipalities, recruitment issues, the rising cost of RCMP's services and navigating the national force's bureaucracy

Although the Grande Prairie RCMP has the budget for 110 police officers, it hasn't been fully staffed for the past five years, the report said.

Motion to postpone 

Monday's council meeting saw a lengthy question period between council and representatives from the National Police Federation, Alberta RCMP and Grande Prairie RCMP.

Community members also spoke to council, most in favour of delaying the decision.