Province dedicates $9.7 million to GP municipal police transition
The province says it will commit $9.7 million to the City of Grande Prairie if it moves forward with a municipal police service.
Funds are meant to help transition from the RCMP contract policing currently in use.
The announcement comes one day after city councillors contemplated the move during a special Committee of the Whole meeting Wednesday, Feb. 22.
Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton said the provincial announcement is encouraging.
“It makes the decision for council easier knowing that the province is behind us financially for the first three years at a minimum,” she said.
“Knowing the province is going to support us makes council have a decision based on service rather than finances.”
The transition is expected to cost around $19 million over the next five years.
Clayton says the city lobbied the province to cover the total cost over five years to reduce the tax impact for city residents.
The mayor said the goal is to not increase taxes and that other alternatives may come into play if support for the last two years of transition does not come from the province. Those options could include using dollars from city reserves.
Public Safety and Emergency Services Minister Mike Ellis said the province is committed to the project.
City council is expected to make a decision on replacing the RCMP at the March 6 regular meeting of council.
People feel local police services “have not been responding to community needs, especially in rural Alberta,” Minister Ellis said.
He said officers have been at times unavailable in times of crisis.
“It's time to look for new and innovative policing solutions,” said Ellis.
He said a community-led police service “reflects a deeper understanding of the geographical area and people that live there and the issues that they are facing.”
Travis Toews, Grande Prairie-Wapiti MLA and finance minister, said the community policing model creates the potential to “improve enforcement” locally.
A local police service could reduce community policing costs, said Mayor Clayton. She said recent public feedback revealed a preference for more localized policing.
Meanwhile, Toews said “a deep commitment to public safety and better enforcement” will be contained in this week’s provincial budget.
“I'm confident that as we work with the City of Grande Prairie and other municipalities for sustainable initiatives that, we can find a really great defensible path forward,” said Toews.
Ellis said there will be no effect on the city if the province were to move forward with a provincial police service.
MNP was contracted to create the transition plan. Community engagement included interviews with approximately 60 stakeholders, an online survey with 758 responses, and two open houses with 88 attendees.
Chad Lins of MNP said the community believes police officers here are well-trained, professional, dedicated, and that residents feel “relatively safe.”
Shortfalls were that residents thought more enforcement was needed in certain areas, mostly relating to drug enforcement and property crime.
According to the engagement, the community wants more transparency and communication from law enforcement and increased accountability, said Lins.
The National Police Federation (NPF), representing approximately 20,000 RCMP officers, has criticized what it calls too brief a window for community feedback, stating that just over one per cent of Grande Prairie’s population has been consulted.
Brian Sauvé, NPF president, said its members are “being asked to do more with less when they are already overworked, stressed, and not fully resourced.” Instead of providing funding to a “costly and arguably unnecessary local police service” the province should make investments to bolster the RCMP in Alberta, he said.
Mayor Clayton noted there is a 20 per cent contingency built into the $19 million transition cost.
The Alberta Police Act requires towns and populations with resident populations over 5,000 to be responsible for its own policing. Municipalities have the option of creating their own police service, forming a regional policing arrangement, or contracting policing services, such as the RCMP.
For more information and to see the reports go to cityofgp.com/municipalpolice.
Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News