Please note that in this column, I’m discussing the overall cost of a police officer to a municipality, over and above just the police officer’s salary.
When I first learned about the provincial government’s discussion around police funding, the first thing that jumped into my mind was that someone, somewhere in Edmonton was of the mind some money can be saved if policing costs are fully downloaded onto municipalities.
The provincial government’s current program of gathering opinions on police funding seems a bit strange to me; there could actually be other serious issues with policing in Alberta that actually need to be looked at.
Currently, municipalities over 5,000 in population pay full costs for their policing and may receive provincial grants. Communities under 5,000 population don’t pay directly (the province funds it and, yes, those are tax dollars that come from us too).
Pretty much throughout my career I’ve heard at urban councils that I covered the police funding model is unfair. Smaller municipalities should have to pay for their police just like the larger ones claimed these councilors.
At a recent county council meeting I covered, the issue of the dollar value of an RCMP officer was discussed. I remember attending a town council meeting about 20 years ago where this exact issue was being discussed, and at that time the council was told an RCMP office cost $85,000 a year, which included a vehicle. Certainly, the dollar value today must be much higher.
Apparently, this dollar value is a bit higher than other police forces, for example, Medicine Hat City Police and the Lacombe Police Service to name a few. Twenty years ago, in the meeting I attended, it was stated the reason RCMP are so much more expensive than normal police is that RCMP training is extremely good. RCMP officers are trained to be patrol officers and investigators, so municipalities in effect get two police officers for the price of one. In fact, if I recall correctly, the word “paramilitary” was used to describe RCMP training.
Editor’s note: The Wetaskiwin RCMP commander Insp. Keith Durance made a good point Oct. 16 with the following information: …”can advise that in most cases and with most ranks, the Rcmp are paid at a rate well under those of other police forces around Canada. Google ” OPP rates of Pay” and you will find that most of the rates of pay for a lot of the police forces are listed.”
It was also recently stated that RCMP retirements across the country are outstripping the number of new RCMP constables coming out of the Regina depot resulting in a net loss of police officers and a chronic “understaffing” problem in Alberta.
In Alberta, as our population grows and rural crime continues to stack on top of urban issues, it may be time to take a look at what other large jurisdictions in Canada have done to get policing at a price they can afford, for example, the Ontario Provincial Police.
Alberta could develop its own provincial police force with its own wants and needs that wouldn’t necessarily require “paramilitary” training, which I’m sure is quite expensive. The provincial police force could handle regular patrol duties, investigations and traffic, so the sheriffs could be folded into the APP. Both Edmonton and Calgary have their own police forces and I’m sure cost was probably one of the main factors in that decision.
It may be time to consider that Alberta has grown to the level where we have to ask what do we need when it comes to policing, and what can we afford? If, for example, two APP officers could be hired for the cost of one Mountie, that is an issue that demands close consideration.
Stu Salkeld is the editor of The Wetaskiwin Pipestone Flyer and writes a regular column for the paper.