October 26th, 2020

Boost in rural policing aimed at safety


By Jensen, Randy on July 13, 2020.

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald

tkalinowski@lethbridgeherald.com

Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Doug Schweitzer says his government’s additional $286-million commitment to enhance rural policing across the province over the next five years will ensure rural residents feel safer in their homes.

“We heard last year when we did our town halls the immense amount of frustration and concern people have for their safety as it relates to rural crime,” he says.

“Over the last three to five years we have seen a huge increase in the rates of rural crime, the extent it is getting to every community across Alberta, and how important this issue is to rural communities in our province.”

His government plans to add 300 new RCMP officers in rural areas and 200 civilian support workers by 2023 to ensure officers can spend the majority of their time on patrol in communities.

“Those support positions help our police officers stay on the ground in communities,” he confirms.

“Quite often now, because they are short-staffed, they have to travel a long distance to get back to the station to fill out paperwork. We heard clearly people want their police officers out in the communities patrolling and keeping them safe.”

While the addition of new officers is welcome for many in rural communities, the attached price tag which must now be borne by taxpayers in those communities under a new funding model hasn’t been as well received.

The $286-million provincial commitment represents only about 70 per cent of the total cost of this enhanced rural policing effort. The province will expect 10 per cent of these policing costs to be paid for by municipalities this year, 15 per cent next year, 20 per cent in 2022 and 30 per cent by 2023.

Members of both the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) and Alberta Urban Municipalities of Alberta (AUMA) have been vocal in their opposition to the additional tax burden this represents for their constituents.

Schweitzer is aware of these criticisms, and says the key will be ensuring affected communities have a strong stake in their own policing to justify the cost. To this end, Schweitzer says he has formed the Alberta Police Advisory Board.

“If we are asking people to contribute financially to law enforcement, they need a seat at the table,” he explains. “We have a member from the RMA and the AUMA from each of the four districts the RCMP is set up in Alberta represented on the board to help us work with the RCMP to establish priorities for policing in their communities. That is one of the ways we can provide feedback to the RCMP to make sure they are meeting the needs of communities across Alberta. So with that comes the accountability. If you are asking someone to contribute, they need to have a voice there to hold law enforcement accountable to the people who are paying the bills.”

When asked if it comes down to, in his mind, those getting the greatest benefit of the enhanced policing paying their fair share of the price, Schweitzer prefers to phrase his answer in different terms.

“It comes down to all three levels of government participating in this,” he says. “The province is still the largest contributor to rural policing, the federal government is also a big partner in it, and also now we have the municipalities contributing as well.”

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