July 20th, 2024

UCP planning new police force to work with existing agencies

By Al Beeber - Lethbridge Herald on March 14, 2024.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDabeeber@lethbridgeherald.com

The provincial government introduced legislation Wednesday that could see Alberta have a new independent police force.

The Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2024 would update current policing legislation to create a new organization to work alongside police forces across Alberta.

Legislation will also enable the province to create an ankle bracelet monitoring program for violent and sexual offenders and those on bail who pose a risk to public safety.

“Officers in the new agency would take on responsibility for police-like functions currently carried out by the Alberta Sheriffs,” says the government.

“These changes will improve the government’s ability to respond to communities’ requests for additional law enforcement support through a new agency that can operate seamlessly alongside local police in the policing environment. The new agency would be operationally independent from the government, as all Alberta’s police services are now,” it adds.

The province says the new service isn’t an attempt to replace the Sheriffs who will still, if the legislation is approved, continue to perform their functions under their peace officer role.

The size of the new agency will be determined by the functions it is given.

The Amendment Act is intended to make changes to two pieces of legislation to support the public safety needs of Albertans. This includes changes to the Corrections Act to allow for a new electronic monitoring program and to the Police Act to enable the creation of the independent police agency to take on some police like functions performed by, or proposed for, the Alberta Sheriffs, media heard in a morning press conference.

The new agency would have the authority and jurisdiction to strengthen Alberta’s present policing model, says the province. It would work alongside municipal and First Nations police forces as well as the RCMP which would continue to operate as the provincial force.

“These changes are part of a broader paradigm shift that reimagines police as an extension of the community rather than as an arm of the state. Having a new police agency perform these functions under the legal framework of policing legislation will ensure they’re carried out with the transparency, accountability and independence which Albertans should expect from law enforcement,” said Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis in a media statement.

The new agency’s functions will come under the Police Act and be subject to the same level of oversight and accountability as existing police services.

The province says the legislation builds upon previous work to expand the role of the Alberta Sheriffs. Those duties include fugitive apprehension, surveillance and the Rural Alberta Police Integrated Defence Response which gave the Sheriffs’ highway patrol authority in July of 2021 to investigate criminal offences such as impaired driving.

“The new agency would follow best practices, which include being subject to a civilian oversight board to increase public confidence and accountability. This board would have a role similar to local police commissions, which provide independent civilian oversight of municipal and First Nations police services in Alberta,” says the province.

People subject to a court-ordered monitoring condition would be required to wear a GPS tracking device to help monitor offender-restricted areas including the residences of victims, places of employment or other off-limits areas. Compliance will be monitored 24 hours a day by a centralized monitoring unit of Correctional Services Division personnel.

“The federal government’s bail policies are failing to keep people safe. We are taking an important step toward combatting rising crime, creating safer streets and neighbourhoods and protecting our communities. Ankle bracelet electronic monitoring is another tool in the toolbox for courts to hold high-risk and repeat offenders accountable for their actions while out on bail,” says Ellis.

The province says once operational the ankle bracelet program will provide more supervision of repeat offenders and people out on bail who require around-the-clock monitoring.

A civilian oversight board, to be established under the legislation, will “ensure the police agency has the governance necessary to be accountable to Albertans and operate independently from the government.” It will have a role similar to that of police commissions.

The UCP government has been working for years on revamping policing to better respond to crime, particularly in the downtowns of Edmonton and Calgary and rural areas.

Under former premier Jason Kenney and current Premier Danielle Smith, the UCP studied and long promoted replacing the RCMP with a provincewide police force.

However, the idea faced opposition – including from municipalities – over concerns on cost, implementation and staffing, while public opinion polls consistently suggested a majority of Albertans did not support a new provincewide force.

For the last year or so, Smith’s government has gone silent on dumping the RCMP.

Nevertheless, Opposition NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir characterized the move as a backdoor way for Alberta to squeeze out the RCMP.

“An Alberta police force would be extremely costly for Albertans. Municipalities made it loud and clear they don’t want it, Albertans don’t want it, but Danielle Smith, yet again, doesn’t listen,” said Sabir in a statement.

– with files from The Canadian Press

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Kal Itea

Just another Danielle Smith flip-flop boondoggles. Politicians always play the crime card when they are losing in the polls. Us taxpayers pay.