Alberta government says it's 'empowering' municipalities to 'make their own choices' on policing

Given the 'urgency' of Alberta's public safety challenges, its public safety department says it is focused on 'empowering' municipalities to make their own choices on policing.

Alberta government says it's 'empowering' municipalities to 'make their own choices' on policing
Facebook/ Danielle Smith and Mike Ellis
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Despite pausing its pursuit of a provincial police force — contrary to mandate letters sent to Premier Danielle Smith's first cabinet in November — Alberta's Public Safety department clarified that work on an Alberta Police Service is ongoing.

"An Alberta Police Service remains part of the government's ongoing work to examine and implement a variety of options that will ensure the safety and security of Albertans," said Public Safety spokesperson Michael Kwas.

"However, given the urgency of the public safety challenges Alberta is facing today, we've been clear that our current focus is on empowering municipalities to make their own choices and ensuring that the current policing model is meeting their needs," he told Rebel News.

On August 1, Justice Minister Mickey Amery told reporters his department continues to consult Albertans on policing despite not receiving explicit direction from Smith in her recent mandate letter.

On November 9, 2022, the premier directed then-justice Minister Tyler Shandro to work with Ellis to "finalize a decision on establishing an Alberta Police Service."

However, in August, Smith directed Ellis to continue working "with local communities to support them with the community policing options they believe will best serve their populations."

"We recently established the Indigenous and Municipal Police Transition Study Grant to assist communities that want to explore whether an alternative policing model would work better for them," said Kwas.

"These grants provide successful applicants up to $30,000 for a feasibility study towards alternative policing models, which may include a municipal police service, a self-administered First Nations police service, or a regional policing arrangement," he added.

After tabling Budget 2023, the UCP announced $9.7 million for Grande Prairie over two years to aid transition costs to a municipal police force.

Mayor Jackie Clayton said the initial funding would give the city confidence to make a change. Total costs would amount to an estimated $19 million.

In March, Grande Prairie city council initiated their efforts to replace the RCMP with a municipal police service in a near-unanimous vote.

Ellis called the move "part of a paradigm shift in policing across Alberta," adding a community-led police service would serve the region better. 

At the time, the minister said a decision on a provincial police service had yet to be made.

Pollster Janet Brown said municipalities have generally opposed a provincial police service, despite other provinces employing them willingly.

"Outside the two major cities who would be most impacted by replacing the RCMP, that number was 74%," she said, with 61% believing crime rose in their community.

Between 2017 and 2021, Alberta's crime rates per 100,000 residents show a 14% increase in violent crime and a 24% increase in violent crime in rural areas.

Over half (55%) of rural Albertans favoured increased funding for law enforcement before making a change.

"[This] underscores people's concern with crime," said Brown. "It's economic downturns and substance abuse that's driving it — and that if we're not [changing police forces] to prevent crime, then why are we doing it." 

The Alberta police force option has been studied and touted by the Alberta government for years. Still, it has faced opposition — including from municipalities — over cost, implementation and staffing concerns. 

A recent 120-page government report outlined that dumping the RCMP would initially cost $366 million and an estimated $200 million annually. 

Another report released in 2021 put the total price tag for a provincial police force at between $734 million and $759 million.

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