The Alberta government plans to help municipalities shift away from the RCMP and transition into their own municipal or regional police service if the municipality wants to start their own force.
Global News has learned the United Conservative government will allocate money in the upcoming budget to do just that.
The province says it will not force municipalities to make any decision, but those that want to move away from the RCMP and start their own police service will receive provincial assistance.
Grande Prairie has been mulling the idea of starting its own municipal police service.
As Global News first reported Tuesday, Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis says the province will provide the city with $9.7 million over two years if Grande Prairie decides to move forward.
“Alberta’s government is ready to support Grande Prairie as the city improves public safety by exploring new and innovative approaches toward local policing,” Ellis said Wednesday.
“Having a community-led and focused police service will ensure Grande Prairie is finding unique solutions that will better serve their region.”
The money would go towards start-up costs like equipment, vehicles, and uniforms.
“This isn’t a new exploration for us. This has been over a couple of years,” Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton said at a news conference Wednesday.
She says there are many benefits to switching from the RCMP to a municipal police service.
“Including increasing local oversight, accountability and efficiency offered through a local police commission and local decision-making autonomy,” Clayton added.
She also believes this will increase officer recruitment and help with retention.
The City of Grande Prairie is currently policed by the RCMP under an agreement between the municipality and Public Safety Canada. Grande Prairie commissioned a detailed transition study and public engagement process in September 2022 to consider other police service models.
The province says it does not want to make decisions for municipalities, but rather empower them to make their own decisions.
If other municipalities want to create their own police service, the province said it will help with the process.
Ellis has repeatedly said he has had conversations with several municipalities that have shown interest in ditching the RCMP in favour of a regional or municipal service.
In a news release, the government said it “supports municipalities studying and developing alternate policing models as a way to address public safety concerns and ensure policing priorities are aligned with local priorities.”
“As Grande Prairie works toward establishing its own community-driven police force, the Alberta government is fully supportive,” said finance minister Travis Toews, who is also the MLA for Grande Prairie-Wapiti.
“This is an excellent example of a made-in-Alberta solution that will strengthen enforcement.”
Grande Prairie is expected to make a decision by March 6.
Under Alberta’s Police Act, towns and cities with populations greater than 5,000 are responsible for their own policing. Grande Prairie’s population is an estimated 68,000.
Criminologist Temitope Oriola says this move puts the onus on municipalities, so the province isn’t seen as making a unilateral decision after it faced pushback from several cities and groups.
“Clearly there’s been a shift in both tone and overall tactic.
“Whether or not it signals that a provincial police service will no longer happen… is yet to be seen,” he said.
“I would not be surprised if, a few months down the road, that does come up, but clearly and evidently there is a shift here towards allowing those municipalities to make a decision on what exactly they want.”
He says regardless of whether municipal, regional, provincial or a federal police service, there needs to be gender and racial diversity and proper training.
Cathy Heron, the mayor of St. Albert and president of Alberta Municipalities, said she’s content with RCMP but if St. Albert had to choose between a provincial force and a municipal or regional one, it would explore the local option.
“My association and the City of St. Albert have expressed support for RCMP in Alberta and see no real need to transition away from RCMP.
“But given the fact that the provincial government seems quite intent on moving away from RCMP and moving towards an Alberta Provincial Police force, I think this is why Grande Prairie and maybe many other municipalities are looking at their own police service. It does give you a little more control over the governance over your police,” she said.
“The proposed model for provincial policing does not give a municipality a lot of control over governance.
“We don’t have a say in budgeting, we don’t have a say in priority setting. It’s very ambiguous… I for one would prefer to have a more active role in how my community is policed and if that means a municipal police force, I would 100 per cent want to go down that road.”
However, the province allocating millions in the budget for municipalities to launch local police forces seems like a huge amount of money to Heron.
“There are so many communities in this province,” she said. “I feel like that is a big budget line item that is unnecessary. We have expressed to the province more than once — both my association and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta — that we are happy with RCMP. Granted, RCMP can be modernized and (take) different approaches, but they’re willing to do that work in Canada.
“The problem with what the province is proposing is Alberta Provincial Policing, we’re going to lose a huge grant from the federal government, we’re going to spend $366 million — probably more — in transition, and now they’re proposing to give municipalities another $10 million to do their own municipal police force?”
Instead, Heron says she would like to see the province invest in mental health, addictions support and the justice system, rather than the policing model.
Alberta’s contract with the RCMP expires in 2032.
“That’s how long our contract with the RCMP exists today,” Heron said. “But the province can give notice to Ottawa and the RCMP at any moment and that contract can be severed.
“There is some urgency — if you don’t want to be part of provincial police force and you want your own municipal — to do this,” Heron said. “Kudos to Grande Prairie for getting ahead of this.”
The Opposition NDP says the UCP has failed on public safety and that the NDP would scrap the plan for a provincial police force.
“Instead of keeping Albertans safe, 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,” said Irfan Sabir, NDP critic for justice, in a statement.
“Municipalities above a certain size are legally empowered to establish their own police services if they choose to do so. Some communities have studied this option and found it too expensive, and others have proceeded.”