OLDS — Replacing the RCMP with a proposed provincial police force will cost far more and won’t really solve issues like crime and long response times in rural areas, two RCMP officers told a crowd in Olds.
That’s the gist of a presentation given to about 35 people in the Olds College land sciences building on Feb.2. It was part of the Keep Alberta RCMP tour, underway across the province.
The talk, which lasted more than two hours, was given by National Police Federation (NPF) directors Jeff McGowan and Kevin. R. Halwa. The NPF is essentially a union for RCMP officers, they said.
Halwa said two proposed models of a provincial police service were proposed in a Price Waterhouse Cooper report commissioned by the provincial government and released publicly last November.
He said Model A would result in a total of 4,945 staff, including 1,613 fully-trained police officers and would cost $734 million a year.
Model B would also result in 4,945 staff but would include 3,153 fully-trained police officers and cost a projected $759 million a year.
He said the RCMP service currently provided in Alberta provides 5,055 employees, including 3,097 fully-trained police officers and costs $595 million a year.
Halwa said on top of those costs, there would be a cost for outfitting the new service with equipment needed to operate the service, such as communications equipment, whereas that wouldn’t be required if the RCMP were retained because they already have that.
Halwa and McGowan said the cost difference is due to the fact that under a federal/provincial contract, the federal government pays 30 per cent of RCMP costs in Alberta, which they said currently works out to about $185 million.
They said with a provincial police service, that cost would have to be borne solely by Alberta taxpayers, while currently it’s borne by taxpayers across the country, including Alberta taxpayers.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re buying a provincial police service or you’re buying a jug of milk at the corner store, having somebody else pay 30 per cent of that tab is not something to be sloughed off,” Halwa said.
He questioned the report’s costing for a provincial police service, saying in Surrey B.C., which is transitioning from RCMP to a municipal police service, the anticipated cost for the transition to a civilian force has ballooned 400 per cent to more than $80 million from a projected $19 million, and the transition is still ongoing after a couple of years.
“Can anyone recall a government project that was either on time or on budget," Halwa asked, sparking light laughter.
Last August, Premier Jason Kenney said municipalities won’t pay more for a provincial police service than they would for the RCMP — that the provincial government would cover any extra costs.
That didn’t make sense to Halwa, noting taxpayers pay for both provincial and federal services.
“There is but one tax bucket in the province of Alberta,” he said. “I always use the Costco example. It makes no difference if my wife goes to Costco or if I go to Costco; it comes out of the same can.”
Halwa said it's been suggested that 15 per cent of the current RCMP officers serving in Alberta would transition over to the Alberta provincial police service.
He described that as “fairly liberal,” because he said Surrey is “nowhere near” luring even that percentage of RCMP officers into its new service.
“Let’s say the 15 per cent is accurate. That is only 464 members. That still leaves the (province) searching for 2,500 more police officers.”
Halwa said the province would be searching for new recruits at a time when city police services not only in Alberta cities, but across North America are having a really tough time obtaining recruits, for several reasons, including the violence many police officers are subject to these days.
He said for example, the Calgary Police Service struggled last year to recruit 150 police officers in a city of roughly 1.4 million people.
He said the Victoria, B.C. police department has struggled so much to recruit 20 more experienced police officers that they’re now offering $20,000 signing bonuses to applicants.
“When Jeff and I joined back in the 1990s, there were applicants wrapped around the block three times. It was a very attractive career,” Halwa said.
“At that time, for every 100 applications that the RCMP received, about 10 of those people made the cut as far as going to training, and even in training, some of those got weeded out.
“So really what you were left with was the best of the absolute best that was available hitting the streets in Canada to serve the public – which is a good thing. Unfortunately, that is not the case anymore.”
Halwa and McGowan noted that major concerns about policing in rural Alberta include long response times
They said the province would be further ahead in solving those issues by spending more money on hiring more Crown prosecutors and judges and/or mental health professionals and addiction counsellors to address the “revolving door” of criminals, many of whom suffer from mental health and addiction issues.
They suggested some of that $185 million referred to earlier could be spent to pay for that work.
McGowan said he too is a taxpayer so “I want to make sure we’re getting the best bang for our buck.”
The provincial government is holding its own tour of the province to consult on the idea of a provincial police service, but McGowan and Halwa say their understanding is those consultations are only open to elected officials such as mayors, councillors, reeves and representatives of Albertan Municipalities and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta Association.
“Ma and Pa Kettle and Joe Citizen are not allowed here and there. They might be able to register, but they will get booted out and not be allowed in the door,” Halwa said.
“We’ve had people reach out to us and say ‘hey listen, I registered to go to this thing and then I got an email three days later saying hey sorry, you’re not invited, too bad.’”
They questioned why that’s the case.
The crowd was told that current RCMP members would prefer to remain in Alberta, but that police are in such demand and RCMP have such a good reputation among other police services that it would be relatively easy for them to move elsewhere.
Mountain View County Coun. and deputy reeve Greg Harris saw no sense in making the change.
“What we’re talking about is we’re talking about a work in progress that still has some things to fix being thrown out to start all over again, and that just does not make operational sense,” Harris said.
Another meeting participant suggested that the proposed change to a provincial police force has nothing to do with efficiencies in cost or service, but more to do with Kenney’s animosity toward Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“This whole exercise is nothing to do with costs and benefits. It's just trying to get even with a federal politician. And when it unfolds, both of them will be long gone, one far sooner than the other,” he said.
Yet another meeting participant defended the service provided by RCMP, saying a person in her life who is paranoid/schizophrenic has benefited by their compassionate, sympathetic assistance.
“They’re there for the people who are involved with him, they’ve helped him, they’ve helped the family and you don’t get that kind of attention from any other police force,” she said.