CALGARY — The Alberta government continues to make its case for a provincial police force, saying it would add hundreds of front-line officers to small detachments.
The United Conservative Party government outlined its blueprint for more police in rural Alberta on Tuesday. Under the plan, 275 front-line police officers would be added to the 42 smallest detachments.
Justice Minister Tyler Shandro said as it stands, there is no minimum number of officers at RCMP detachments. He said a made-in-Alberta police force would provide better policing for all regions including improved response times.
"I'm often asked why the government is looking at the idea of a provincial police service and the answer is simple ... we have a duty as Alberta's government to consider whether new and innovative approaches to policing can make our community safer," Shandro said.
"We can also make access to mental health, addictions, family crisis services, and other specialized police services more accessible to all communities across Alberta."
Shandro said the proposed model would have 65 to 85 community detachments that would have a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 80 officers working in them.
The plan also includes service-hub detachments with between 48 and 192 officers, as well as three urban detachments to serve larger communities and function as regional headquarters.
The report also outlines how an Alberta Police Service would extend dedicated support to self-administered First Nations police services through its service-hub detachments, making it easier for them to establish and maintain their own forces.
Shandro said the idea of a provincial police force isn't something new nor should the public be concerned.
"The biggest point I would really like to drive home for all Albertans is both Quebec and Ontario have their own provincial police service and look, their provinces have not collapsed," he said.
Shandro said the RCMP, as it does in Quebec and Ontario, would continue to exist but focus on federal policing responsibilities as opposed to handing out a speeding ticket in rural Alberta.
"Cyber-terrorism, human trafficking, organized crime would be their core functions rather than concentrating on contract policing," he said.
"The RCMP, they're kind of like an FBI but they wear other hats as well but that would be a good analogy."
The government is deciding its next steps after the release of a third-party analysis last fall of the proposal for an Alberta-run provincial police force to replace RCMP in rural areas and some smaller cities.
The PricewaterhouseCoopers report said it currently costs Alberta about $500 million a year for the RCMP.
Ottawa chips in $170 million under a cost-sharing agreement.
That report said if Alberta decides to go it alone, it would cost about $735 million each year, on top of $366 million in startup costs.
But it said there is potential for more cost-effective law enforcement by using existing human resources and the government's financial services to save money, and by drafting agreements with municipal forces to share specialized police services, including canine units, air support and tactical squads.
Alberta has not made a decision on whether to proceed but wants to have a transition plan in place if Ottawa decides to end financial support for contract policing.
"I think we have to remember ... the federal government has wanted out of that liability since the 1960s and the opportunity in continuing to receive that subsidy quite frankly has a shelf life," said Shandro.
Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, the commanding officer of the Alberta RCMP, said his team will be reviewing the government's policing report.
Zablocki said the RCMP is constantly adjusting its service to meet the demands of Albertans and has always worked closely with the provincial government.
"Our budget and staffing levels are determined by the Government of Alberta, the provincial policing priorities are developed with their oversight approval, and we report on strategic and budget performance measurements on a regular basis," he said in a release.
"Our employees are skilled police professionals, trained to the highest standard in Canada, based on over a century of rural policing lessons."
Provincial governments in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia are also studying the feasibility of replacing the RCMP.
Earlier this year, the Rural Municipalities of Alberta said it supports keeping the RCMP and opposes the idea of a provincial police force because the government has failed to demonstrate how it would increase service levels in rural areas.
Alberta Municipalities, formerly known as the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, was briefed on the plan but said it needed more time to digest the information.
But it outlined some concerns about the costs, whether there has been enough consultations, and that a provincial force should be driven by real public safety needs rather than by politics.
Alberta NDP Justice Critic Irfan Sabir has concerns as well.
"This is not a blueprint. It’s a boondoggle," he said.
"The UCP will spend hundreds of millions of dollars just to set up a new police force when what Albertans want is better policing focused on addressing crime and its root causes."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 16, 2022.
Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press