Poll says 'no' to Alberta police force, decision not expected before election

Amid a new municipal police force and sheriff pilot in Alberta, a recent telephone poll claims most oppose replacing the RCMP with a provincial police force.

Poll says 'no' to Alberta police force, decision not expected before election
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From a pool of 900 residents, 67% of respondents believe making the policing switch would have little or no effect on reducing crime.

While 15% claimed it would have a significant impact, the remaining 85% said they need the idea put into a referendum before deciding whether to support the idea.

Nearly two-thirds (66%) of those surveyed said the province should address the root causes of crime by pledging additional support for mental health, homelessness and addictions.

Pollster Janet Brown said municipalities have generally opposed a provincial police service.

Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis reiterated last week that a decision had yet to be made on a potential provincial police force.

After tabling Budget 2023, the UCP said they would not decide to replace the RCMP before May's general election.

On Tuesday, the Grande Prairie City Council instead passed a nearly unanimous vote to replace the RCMP with a municipal police service.

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.

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

The National Police Service called the move "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 union representing Mounties also pushed back against Alberta's plan to hire 250 more sheriffs, which Ellis insisted would bolster public safety.

He said the staffing boost would complement existing municipal and federal police addressing rural crime but clarified that sheriffs are peace officers, not police.

The Alberta Sheriffs Branch ensures the safety of those at the Alberta legislature and in courthouses. Its peace officers also transport prisoners, work in communications, and enforce traffic and fish and wildlife laws.

"Those officers will respond to each according to their training and the skills for which they've been provided."

"The officer presence has been making a difference. People tend to feel safer," said Ellis of the ongoing pilot in Edmonton and Calgary.

Nevertheless, Alberta Municipalities President Cathy Heron said the January poll should dissuade the province from pursuing a provincial police force to replace the RCMP.

"The results of this survey paint a very clear picture," she said in a statement. "Albertans are simply not interested in a discussion or review of community policing in Alberta that is based on political aims or recommendations from the 2020 Fair Deal Panel report."

Heron claimed that municipalities are interested in discussing the delivery of community policing with the primary goal of enhancing public safety." 

Among respondents, 65% said they favoured improving the justice system and ensuring adequate sentencing.

"Outside the two major cities who would be most impacted by replacing the RCMP, that number was 74%," added Brown. She also noted that 61% believed crime rose in their part of the province and that 55% favoured increased funding for law enforcement.

The province's crime rates per 100,000 residents show a 17% decline in property crime between 2017 and 2021, a 14% increase in violent crime, and a 24% increase in violent crime in rural areas over the same period.

"[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," said Brown.

Alberta has long debated replacing the RCMP with a provincial police service, as recommended in the Fair Deal Panel Report released in June 2020.

According to the report, many residents expressed frustration with local crime and the RCMP's policing, despite respecting the organization. 

However, some want to keep the RCMP out of "sentimental attachment" or "a concern about the extra cost and red tape associated with creating a provincial police force."

At the time, presenters felt the RCMP became "too bureaucratic to respond to local needs," with their resources spread too thin. They also said the RCMP's habit of moving officers around the province hurt police effectiveness and that the force "was unable or unwilling to confront activists who terrorize farmers."

Many firearms owners also expressed concern with the policing group's heavy-handed enforcement of gun laws, especially the rumblings of federal confiscation through Bill C-21.

"Why should Albertans pay Ottawa for the RCMP to come and confiscate our guns?" asked one presenter. "The bottom line was that Alberta needs to be treated with respect, and this lack of respect led to injustice."

However, Brown contends that "changing the badge" won't adequately address those things.

The province maintains the move would boost the number of police officers in rural detachments up to at least ten and decentralize special units out of big cities.

But opponents, including Alberta's Opposition NDP, say replacing the RCMP should be prohibitive.

A 120-page government report outlined that dumping the RCMP would cost $366 million to start and an estimated extra $200 million annually. A different report released in 2021 put the total price tag for a provincial police force at between $734 million and $759 million.

"The UCP will spend hundreds of millions of dollars just to set up a new police force when Albertans want better policing focused on addressing crime and its root causes," according to NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir.

But Alberta Public Safety and Emergency Services said they couldn't ignore the federal government's commitment to the RCMP contract and its future sustainability.

"It would be negligent and bad governance not to examine all options available to keep Albertans safe," they said. 

Rebel News attempted to reach the Public Safety ministry for comment but did not hear back at the time of publication.

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