By Trevor Busch
Roughly 300 additional RCMP members will be added to the province’s current complement in detachments and specialized RCMP units as a key component in tackling rural crime issues.
Announced last month, the RCMP expansion will be funded in part by municipalities after the province moved to alter the current police funding arrangement. Small and rural communities in the province under a population of 5,000 which previously didn’t contribute to policing costs will be taking on the added expense involved in the initiative, expected to total $200 million over the next five years under a new provincial policing model.
“We’ve had just an absolutely atrocious increase in rural crime, and we have to address it somehow,” said Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter, who also serves as associate minister of Red Tape Reduction. “So I actually take my hat off to Minister Schweitzer that he is looking for creative ways in a fiscally-constrained environment, where we can try to be able to put some more boots on the ground…I thought good for him, for thinking outside of the box, because the truth is we were broke and it was hard to be able to come up with more money to put more boots on.”
Some 200 civilian members are also expected to be hired to handle administrative and support positions.
By April 2020, small municipalities will be expected to kick in 10 per cent of their annual policing costs, followed by a scheduled rise to 30 per cent by 2023. Based on an escalating model, municipalities are required to contribute $15.4 million for policing costs this year, followed by $60.3 million by 2023. The extra provincial cash raised will trigger a federal spending increase for the RCMP in Alberta, totaling $86 million by April 1, 2024.
The province is facing a financial crisis, and in trying to find more dollars for rural policing a municipal funding component needed to be considered, added Hunter.
“The last time I talked, when we were at Treasury Board, he (Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer) basically said this is something that we’re looking at — we’re looking at all options — but the end goal was what I liked. The end goal was that we’re trying to be able to stem this rural crime in basically our backyard, the Taber-Warner area, and he said how can we do that without breaking the bank? Because again, we have some real fiscal constraints right now.”
Speaking in December, Schweitzer had highlighted RCMP response times and a rise in property crime in rural areas as factors involved in making the move. Other recent initiatives have targeted increased penalties for trespassing, and passing legislation that also protects property owners from civil liability.
“I guess it’s good in a lot of ways there, but I don’t know if it’s completely thought out as far as how they’re going to pay for it, or distribute the proper numbers in the proper locations,” said Mayor Andrew Prokop. “Part of it is that many places don’t have 24 hour policing. Some places are eight to five, there’s not even any evening or weekend work. That’s a huge difference. And when do most of the problems occur in rural areas? Crime issues are after dark. So to not have any policing availability and visibility is a huge problematic scenario, and that’s what they’re running into now.”
The announcement has received a mixed reaction from municipal leaders across the province, with some pointing to a lack of proper consultation about changes to the funding model while suggesting the increase in policing costs could force municipalities to cut services or increase taxes.
“It even came up if they could delay the spending, the requirement for this next year, and they’re already saying that 10 per cent for the first year to 2023 and beyond that,” said Prokop. “That’s already set out starting in 2020, and so the ask is already can we delay that? I don’t know that they can because they’ve already made the decision from the province. But they’ve also been in consultation with the RCMP to deal with this as well. I think that’s set from what I see.”
With the town maintaining their own municipal police force, Taber does not contract the RCMP but the service is present throughout the Municipal District of Taber. Prokop feels the previous police funding model for communities under 5,000 was unfair to jurisdictions which maintain their own police at a significant cost to local taxpayers.
“I don’t have a problem with it, we’ve always pleaded for policing here, and to me it isn’t fair and reasonable not to have smaller communities pay for policing as well. They’ve been very lucky, and still — to date — they phone 9-1-1 and they’ve got a policeman at the door at some point, an RCMP standing there and dealing with whatever the call is all about, and they don’t pay anything for it. When you think about that, they’re getting the service but they’re not paying for the service. Whereas anybody else — larger centres 5,000 plus — do. How is that fair and reasonable?”
How the new officers will be distributed will be decided by new police advisory boards in consultation with the RCMP, Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta.
“This is one of the unanswered questions that has come up at Mayors and Reeves (meeting, southern Alberta) about that ask, are they going to be more than eight to five?” questioned Prokop. “So they get one or two more members, is it going to be more than eight to five? It’s not established yet. And are they going to have any say in it? No, they’re not. They can have all the input they want, but it’s the federal side that decides that. So you’re stuck in that regard, because it’s federally controlled. That’s the difference, that’s how they operate.”
Aware that his opinions might not be shared by some of his municipal colleagues in the province, Prokop only provided a cold shoulder for their police funding concerns.
“There may be some that may be upset with my comments, but honestly, that’s just reality. Why wouldn’t you think you have to pay for something like that? It’s a service. They’ve been very lucky to this stage that they haven’t had to, now they’re going to have to find ways to make that work, because they have to. What we’re talking about is now past tense, and so I have no problem with that fair and reasonable solution.”
Roughly 1,600 RCMP members make up the province’s current complement. Under the existing 70-30 funding model, Alberta pays $262.4 million for policing while the federal government coughs up $112.4 million.
One hundred officers and civilian staffers are expected to be hired in the first year.
More sympathetic to the concerns of municipalities regarding the new police funding model, Hunter indicated he would be addressing those issues with Minister Schweitzer.
“No one wants the cost of this thing borne by just the municipalities. I’ve heard that loud and clear at the Mayors and Reeves and I will bring that back to the minister and let him know that’s the feedback that I’m receiving.”