The National Police Federation (NPF) is hosting a series of community engagement events across the province to discuss the impacts of the Alberta government’s proposed change to a provincial police service.
The KeepAlbertaRCMP Community Engagement Tour spoke to members of the Drumheller community during an in-person engagement session at the Canalta Jurassic Hotel on Wednesday, February 2; an online virtual event also took place the following evening for those unable to attend the event in person.
“This (a provincial police service) is not a priority for the vast majority of Albertans,” says NPF Prairie and Northern Region Director Kevin Halwa.
He explained that under the current provincial policing contract, the federal government is responsible for 30% of Alberta’s policing costs; in 2021, this equated to some $185 million in funding.
If the province were to move to a provincial police service model, part of the federal funding would be offloaded to taxpayers, and there are indications that the costs would far exceed current federal funding.
Based on the Pricewaterhouse Cooper (PwC) report presented at the engagement, there are two suggested models that would each have significant financial implications for Albertans.
The first scenario would see the number of fully trained police officers roughly halved and cost some $734 million a year; the second scenario would retain a service similar to that currently provided by the RCMP and would cost approximately $759 million per year.
However, Mr. Halwa explains that there would also be associated transition costs, which he likens to starting a brand new business. Estimates place transition costs at between $366 million and $379 million, though they could be as high as $1 billion.
Another concern is the loss of trained officers.
While former Justice Minister and Solicitor General Kaycee Madu estimates that around 15% of the current RCMP force would remain during the transition to a provincial police model, Halwa notes that this equates to only around 464 officers , leaving some 2,500 vacancies.
“Recruitment for the police, not just for the RCMP, is a challenge,” he shares, noting that other municipal police departments struggle to recruit experienced officers.
In British Columbia, the Victoria Police Service began offering a $20,000 signing bonus to entice new members to enlist. Edmonton and Calgary departments are also looking overseas, to places like Scotland Yard, to recruit officers because of their own recruiting difficulties.
He explains that when the Surrey Police Service recently transitioned from the RCMP to a municipal police service, it was expected that the majority of current members would stay; however, this was not the case, and many of the Ministry’s trained officers transferred to other city departments, such as Vancouver, or remained with the RCMP.
Mr Halwa agrees that changes and improvements can be made to the current policing model and even encourages a review of the current service to ‘make sure we get what we pay for’, but does not suggest scrapping everything and leaving . “all fresh.”
Although Minister Madu has previously said that Ottawa has too much control over the RCMP, Halwa says that is simply not the case.
“Policing priorities are set 100% by the province,” he explains.
He also adds that the transition to a provincial policing model will also not solve problems such as rural response times and the drug and opioid crisis.
To reduce response times in rural areas, more field agents are needed; under the current model, the federal government would provide 30% of the funding to place more officers in the communities, while a provincial service would leave the province entirely responsible.
The drug and opioid crisis is a more difficult solution and Halwa says more officers are not the solution; rather, more financial resources and funding for support services to address issues such as homelessness and mental health.
Halwa says he hopes the provincial government will start listening to its citizens, as he has heard many people feel ignored and independent polls have shown there is around 80% support for keeping the RCMP with only a small percentage of people agreeing with an OPP model is a good idea.
The KeepAlbertaRCMP Community Engagement Tour continues through Friday, March 4 with in-person meetings across the province, and Halwa shares additional dates that may be added.
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