Grande Prairie city councillors passed a historic vote Tuesday to replace the increasingly unpopular RCMP with a municipal police service — the first in Alberta since 1956.
Except for one vote, councillors in the northwestern Alberta city voted nearly unanimously after midnight following a meeting with representatives Monday from the RCMP and the National Police Federation to present their concerns.
Up until Tuesday, the city of nearly 64,000 people contracted the RCMP to provide its policing services.
In February, the UCP announced it would allocate $9.7 million to Grande Prairie over two years to help cover transitional costs if the council voted for the municipal police force.
Mayor Jackie Clayton said the initial funding gives the city confidence to proceed with the change.
Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis commented on February 22 that the money would flow to the city over two years to start a local police service if the funding is approved in Budget 2023.
"This is part of a paradigm shift occurring in policing across Alberta," said Ellis at a press conference, who added that a community-led and focused police service would serve the region better.
The National Police Service labelled the decision as "politically motivated" and claimed it lacks consideration for overall transitional costs. The total cost of the proposed police service is estimated to be $19 million.
"The annual operating budget of the municipal police service is projected to be similar to or less than that of the projected RCMP contract budget," said the city in a statement.
"No longer will police services be seen and used as an arm of the state. Rather, they must be an extension or a reflection of the communities they serve," added Ellis.
Kara Westerlund, vice-president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta and a Brazeau County councillor, said changing police services doesn't fix problems and that more work must be done to improve the justice system.
"The solution in this province is dealing with the root of the problem, which is embedded in the judicial system."
"The RCMP have been there for years," said Westerlund, adding that while they aren't perfect, "They know the community and the residents."
She expressed grave concerns about losing federal funding for the RCMP and punishing municipalities already on a thin line financially.
"$10 million is a drop in the bucket. Upfront [it] looks sparkly and shiny, but what about five years from now?"
Alberta NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir also questioned the province's trajectory on policing, arguing it could cost more for taxpayers.
"Instead of keeping Albertans safe, [Premier] Danielle Smith is focused on imposing hundreds of millions of dollars of new costs onto struggling Alberta families to pay for a UCP provincial police force that nobody wants."
A 2021 PricewaterhouseCoopers report commissioned by the province said the RCMP costs Alberta about $500 million annually. The report found that those costs would rise to $735 million annually for a local service, on top of $366 million in startup costs.
Ellis said he continues to engage with several communities about implementing a municipal police force.
His spokesperson, Dylan Topal, said he wouldn't disclose the names of those communities before moving on to more serious discussions.