July 18th, 2024

MDs, counties disappointed no consultation on police force

By George Lee - Lethbridge Herald Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on April 3, 2024.

Rural municipalities are “cautiously optimistic” that a provincial police service would enhance rural safety, a news item on their association website says.

But members of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta are disappointed they weren’t consulted in the lead-up to the government’s first reading of Bill 11 on March 13, the association for 69 counties and municipal districts said.

The RMA said loose ends remain about how a provincial police service would jive with the RCMP in Alberta’s countryside. The group singled out a lack of clarity on issues like collaboration, the development of community safety plans, the gathering of community input and the implementation of priorities.

“If supported by proper governance and local input, enhanced police capacity is beneficial to rural communities,” says the RMA item, “but there are risks around having two different entities providing similar services within the same community.”

Less enthusiastic is Alberta Municipalities, which speaks for municipalities other than MDs and counties – big cities down to summer villages. It says that the way Bill 11 came into being is symptomatic of a non-consultive approach.

The province has “a tendency to avoid consultation and engagement,” says an ABmunis new release. “We ask that ABmunis be informed and consulted from this point onwards on this vitally important issue. Much greater collaboration between the two orders of government is needed.”

The organization supports efforts to make life safer and more secure for Albertans, the release says. But it needs to know more about things like costs, governance and any new policing agency’s mandate.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley, meanwhile, slammed the UCP government for pursuing what she calls an expensive and unpopular provincial agency.

“Another day, another broken promise,” Notley said March 14, reacting to the successful first reading the day before of the Public Safety Statutes Amendment Act, 2024.

“Before the election, the premier promised she would not pursue a provincial police force. During the election, the premier promised she wouldn’t pursue a provincial police force. After the election, the premier promised she would not pursue a provincial police force,” said Notley, the member for Edmonton-Strathcona.

“Yet, Mr. Speaker, yesterday the premier’s government tabled legislation to – wait for it – pursue a provincial police force.”

Premier Danielle Smith maintained that the opposition has got it all wrong. The bill is about complementing existing police services and giving Alberta’s sheriffs arms-length governance and civilian oversight, she said.

“We want to govern and regulate them in exactly the same way as the Calgary Police Service, the Edmonton Police Service, the RCMP, with that kind of oversight,” said Smith, the member for Brooks-Medicine Hat. “That is going to augment safety. It’s going to augment our services.”

The premier maintained that issues addressed in the bill are ones her party ran on, and she accused the NDP of wanting to defund police.

“On this side of the chamber we want to give enhanced coverage for the police and enhanced coverage for policing in communities, and that is exactly what we’ve done,” said Smith.

Irfan Sabir, the official opposition’s deputy house leader, said municipalities, unions and Albertans don’t want a new police service. “So why has this government broken its promise and introduced an Alberta police force which no one is asking for?” he said.

The UCP is “ignoring the will of the people and introducing another pet project of the Premier,” said Sabir, the member for Calgary-Bhullar-McCall.

Deputy Premier Mike Ellis said the NDP is out of touch. “I can tell you that policing comes up all the time. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about large cities, mid-size municipalities, RMA: they sit there and say that we need law enforcement. That’s why we have unprecedented support.”

Ellis, the member for Calgary-West, added: “I suggest the members opposite try to disconnect themselves in some way from the unions and actually speak to the boots on the ground. When you talk to the actual sheriffs, when you talk to the people in the community, I can tell you that they want police.”

Ellis, who is also the minister of public safety and emergency services, continued: “I, quite frankly, don’t care what the uniform is. When somebody calls 9-1-1, we’re going to make sure an officer shows up, regardless of what the members opposite say.”

According to the website Keep Alberta RCMP, transitioning to a policing model with no RCMP contracts would cost Alberta $371.5 million. Total ongoing annual costs would rise from $595 million shared by the province, municipalities and Ottawa to $759 million shared by only the province and municipalities, says the site.

Keep Alberta RCMP is a campaign run by the National Police Federation, the union for about 20,000 RCMP members. Based on earlier policing ideas floated by the government, the site estimates the total number of actual police officers and staff in Alberta would drop slightly to under 5,000.

The Court and Prisoner Service was renamed Alberta Sheriffs in the early 2000s and expanded into a new area of service called Sheriff Traffic Operations, the forerunner of today’s Sheriff Highway Patrol, press secretary Arthur Green of the Ministry of Public Safety and Emergency Services told the Local Journalism Initiative in an emailed statement.

Alberta Sheriffs are responsible for courthouse security and prisoner transport, traffic and commercial vehicle enforcement on provincial highways, and conservation law enforcement for Fish and Wildlife Services. Sheriffs also provide personal protection for senior provincial government officials, as well as security at the legislature and other provincial facilities, Green said.

One way rural Albertans benefit is through surveillance of criminal targets provided by the Sheriff Investigative Support Unit. SISU does the work in support of the RCMP and Alberta Law Enforcement Teams, or ALERT.

Also under the sheriff umbrella is the Safer Communities and Neighbourhoods unit. SCAN, as it’s called, uses legal sanctions and court orders to hold owners responsible for illegal activities on their properties.

And another function of the sheriffs is the Fugitive Apprehension Sheriffs Support Team, or FASST, which helps police services find and arrest wanted criminals.

About 1,160 positions make up the Alberta Sheriffs, and about 1,000 of those are peace officers, Green said.

Alberta’s contract with the RCMP continues until 2032, “so what’s the rush?” Notley asked the premier in the legislature. “Why bring this bill forward if you have no intention of creating the police force, and why create a police force that nobody wants?”

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pursuit diver

I am not sure about this. Can we not expand existing RCMP who already have detachments in those regions and use Sheriffs in support?
I know all law enforcement agencies are having recruiting issues, but would it not be better to increase resources to the existing agencies! The RCMP adds extra resources such as their  Canadian Criminal Real Time Identification Services (CCRTIS), National Forensic Laboratory Services (NFLS),  Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams (INSETs), and other units we can draw from if need be.
I am not sure is this is a good idea and for now, we should be finding ways to support existing agencies, increase assets and find ways to cover rural areas more efficiently.