County of Wetaskiwin: financial burden of policing being transferred to rural residents

County of Wetaskiwin: financial burden of policing being transferred to rural residents

Enhanced positions, support staff should count too says reeve

Dear Premier Jason Kenney;

RE: Police Funding Model

This letter serves as a follow-up to our first letter dated October 8, 2019 regarding a proposed review of and recently announced changes to the police funding model. We received no response to our first letter, other than an acknowledgement of receipt from your office and an assurance that it had been forwarded to the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General for comment.

On December 4, 2019, changes to the police funding model were announced by Minister Schweitzer that will have a significant impact on rural and smaller urban municipalities. These changes call for rural municipalities and urban municipalities with a population under 5,000 to contribute ten percent (10%) of their front-line policing costs beginning in April 2020. By 2023, the contribution of these municipalities is expected to increase to thirty percent (30%). As we emphasized in our first letter, the information we have received throughout the consultation period on this matter has created immense unease for both County Council and Administration. We have particular concern with respect to ensuring that an effective and efficient level of police service is guaranteed for the citizens and residents we proudly serve. Under these announced changes, there is a significant possibility that the level of service our ratepayers receive will decrease, while the costs they incur to fund that service will sharply increase.

The County of Wetaskiwin recognizes that numerous elected provincial officials, including yourself, Minister Schweitzer, and Minister Madu, have stated that the funding provided exclusively by municipalities, with no additional funding from the Government of Alberta, will lead to “more boots on the ground” and will increase the level of police service received by rural residents. Under the model announced, the County of Wetaskiwin will begin to pay a combined total of $284,800 in 2019-20, $427,506 in 2020-21, $569,600 in 2021-22, and $855,012 in 2022-23 and beyond. Unfortunately, this increased expense will be solicited without any explicit guarantee that the County—or any other municipality impacted by these changes, for that matter—will receive a proportionate increase in service, or any clear timeline for when the County might expect to see improved service. This clear download of policing responsibility onto municipalities raises further concerns given the lack of clarity regarding the extent of the moratorium on the hiring of enhanced members, and the lack of consideration of credit for the employment of enhanced administrative and support positions.

Regarding the timeline for the recruitment and placement of new RCMP members as a result of the proposed changes, the County recognizes that the provincial government has made explicit its intentions to hire an additional 300 members and 200 support and civilian staff. However, what has not been made explicit is a timeline for the filling of these new positions, nor where the positions will be based. Although we understand that newly-announced police advisory boards will make final decisions with respect to the placement of new positions, this does not translate into a guarantee that those municipalities that will begin contributing to police costing under the new model will actually see increased service from new positions at their local detachments. Given the scope and budgetary impact of these new expenses to rural and small urban municipalities, the lack of explicit confirmation that the County of Wetaskiwin and other affected municipalities will see an increased number of members at local detachments is troubling.

Respecting the proactive initiatives that the County has already undertaken, as we noted in our initial letter, we currently pay for an Enhanced RCMP Member and Crime Analyst, at an approximate cost of $270,000 annually. While the County recognizes that the provincial government is providing a credit for the hiring of the Enhanced Member, we have yet to receive confirmation as to what the status of enhanced positions will be at the conclusion of the current contract in 2021. This lack of clarity is particularly troubling given the recent moratorium placed on the hiring of new enhanced positions. The County would look favourably on being able to maintain its Enhanced Member and the associated credit towards policing costs, especially if we are now compelled to cover a portion of the province’s policing costs. Unlike the “new boots on the ground” promised under these changes, our Enhanced Member provides a clear level of service to the County. Additionally, the moratorium on the hiring of new Enhanced Members significantly diminishes the ability of the County and similar municipalities to take initiatives to increase the level of policing service within their own boundaries.

In relation to our concerns regarding the future status and availability of enhanced member positions, the County has been told that staff directly supporting the RCMP such as our Crime Analyst, are not eligible for any sort of credit and/or cost reduction. This is in spite of the fact that these positions are often directly requested by local detachments and have an invaluable impact on overall crime reduction. Additionally, having these positions in place in local detachments means that current and future members can spend less time on administrative duties and more time patrolling, attending calls for service, and proactively deterring crime. Without a credit and/or cost reduction for this position, the severe burden of the newly imposed policing costs would almost certainly lead to the County having to reconsider this position. It would also likely result in newly recruited members spending more time on administrative matters, which would actually reduce the level of policing service our residents receive. Furthermore, the County currently employs three (3) Community Peace Officers (CPOs) that assist our law enforcement partners in the areas of road protection, traffic safety and enforcement, public safety, and other important initiatives. Due to the costs associated with the proposed funding changes without appropriate credits given, the effectiveness of our CPO program will almost certainly be diminished, and the overall level of service provided to County residents will noticeably decrease.

Simply put, by effectively downloading a large proportion of frontline policing costs onto rural and smaller urban municipalities without a single dollar of additional support coming from the provincial government, the financial burden of policing is being gradually transferred to rural residents. The County of Wetaskiwin strongly believes that the Government of Alberta should support rural Albertans in effectively tackling rural crime. However, this government has yet to effectively convey how these changes will lead to a demonstratable increase in the level of service provided to municipalities and their residents. In fact, taking into consideration the tough decisions facing rural and small urban municipalities in light of these new expenditures, it is highly likely that impacted municipalities will see a noticeable decrease in the level of policing and crime prevention service citizens receive. Rural Alberta is an immensely important segment of this province and should be supported and treated as such, rather than being viewed as a funding avenue for provincial initiatives imposed without any sense of adequate consultation with stakeholders.

Terry Van de Kraats

Reeve, County of Wetaskiwin

Alberta Politics