Two members of Canada’s National Police Federation (NPF) were in Stettler on Feb. 1 to raise community awareness of the implications relating to the province’s proposed plan to transition to a provincial police force.
The potential establishment of an Alberta Provincial Police Service was brought up in the Government of Alberta’s 2020 Fair Deal Panel which highlighted changes the province could make to get itself on a more equal footing with Ottawa.
Number 14 on the list of 15 recommendations was the creation of the provincial police force.
Following the release of the Fair Deal Panel’s report, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) was contracted to conduct a study on the proposed transition.
The report was made publicly available in the fall of 2021.
According to Jeff McGowan, one of the directors of the NPF, the PWC report completely “missed the rural population.”
“It polled 1,000 people from Edmonton and Calgary,” said McGowan, during the presentation.
Since the PWC report was released, the NPF conducted their own polling on the replacement of the RCMP in the province and found of 3,900 people asked, only nine per cent supported replacing them.
According to McGowan, the PWC report also failed to adequately address costs of policing services done by the RCMP which are not billed to the province.
Services such as special investigations, undercover operations, technological crimes, air services and witness protection are all services which are provided by the federal law enforcement body which the province has to pay little, if anything, for.
“The costs aren’t reflected in the budget for the municipalities,” said McGowan.
Under the current model, just under 3,100 RCMP officers serve 1.8 million rural Albertans at a cost to the province of $595 million per year.
McGowan says that two plans for a provincial police service have been proposed, each of which would cost the province more money than they are currently paying as the federal government currently cost shares around one-third of RCMP costs.
In the first model, the 3,100 RCMP officers would be replaced with 1,600 “fully-trained” police officers and another 1,500 “level 2” officers at a cost of $734 million per year to the province.
In the second model, the 3,100 RCMP members would be replaced with 3,150 “Level one” officers,” who would be on par with the RCMP members, at a cost to the province of $759 million per year.
One consideration not taken into account for the transition is where the new members would come from.
According to NPF director Kevin Halwa, a conservative estimate would have 15 per cent of RCMP members transition to the new police force.
“They will be 2,500 members short,” said Halwa.
“If 15 per cent stay, you lose 85 per cent of the experienced police.”
Questions not answered in the PWC report include where the estimated 2,500 officers would come from, or where they would be trained.
Halwa notes that policing isn’t the attractive career it once was.
“It’s gotten more dangerous,” said Halwa.
“It’s tough to get people into policing.”
Finally, both presenters noted that none of the information yet provided accounts for the actual transition itself.
According to information provided in the meeting, the province plans to transition out the RCMP and phase in a provincial police service in a “12 to 24 month” period at a cost of $366 million, something which does not seem realistic to McGowan or Halwa.
They used the municipality of Surrey, B.C., as an example.
The municipality was formerly contracted to the RCMP for policing services, however decided to form their own municipal police service.
Initial estimates for the switch were a four year, $19 million, transition.
According to Halwa, the transition is currently sitting at six years, $81 million, “with no end in sight.”
“The province is focusing on the wrong problem,” said Mayor Sean Nolls, who also attended the meeting.
Nolls noted that instead of worrying about police, the province should focus on hiring more prosecutors and judges, thereby reducing the backlog and triaging of criminal court cases.
“If we can fix the triaging, we can fix more than half the problem,” said Nolls.
Triaging refers to prosecutors focusing on cases resulting in the highest likelihood of conviction, and letting the rest go, resulting in alleged criminals returning to the streets.
Another complicating factor is the “Jordan Decision”, which establishes timelines within which trials must be heard.
For provincial court trials, the timeline is 18 months after charges are laid, and for a superior court is 30 months.
If a trial is not heard within that time the defence can motion to have their cases dismissed.
“We need to focus on what the actual issues are,” said McGowan.
“With the revolving door justice system we deal with 10 per cent of the population 90 per cent of the time.”
The province has promised more engagement before the transition to a provincial police model is further contemplated; however, according to Halwa and McGowan that consultation will remain in the realm of elected officials and will not be extending to the general public.
For more information, go to the website www.keepalbertaRCMP.ca.