The Alberta government says it will give Grande Prairie $9.7-million if the city decides to replace its RCMP with a municipal police force.
Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said Wednesday that the money would flow to the city over two years for the costs associated with starting a local police service if the funding is approved in the United Conservative Party government’s upcoming budget.
“This is part of a paradigm shift that’s occurring in policing across Alberta,” said Ellis at a news conference.
“No longer will police services be seen and used as an arm of the state. Rather, they must be an extension, or a reflection of the communities that they serve.”
Currently, the RCMP provides Grande Prairie’s policing services.
Ellis said having a community-led and focused police service would ensure Grande Prairie finds unique solutions to better serve the region.
On March 6, Grande Prairie city council is to vote on the municipal police proposal, which would cost an estimated $19-million.
Mayor Jackie Clayton said the initial funding from the province would give the city of about 64,000 people the confidence to proceed with the change if the proposal is approved by city council.
The city issued a statement saying “the annual operating budget of the municipal police service is projected to be similar to or less than that of the projected RCMP contract budget.”
Kara Westerlund, vice-president of Rural Municipalities of Alberta and a Brazeau County councillor, said that while the RCMP isn’t perfect, it’s unfair to say that Mounties don’t know the communities that they serve.
“The RCMP have been there for years,” said Westerlund in an interview. “They know the community, they know the residents.”
Westerlund said changing police services isn’t going to fix problems and that more work needs to be done to improve the justice system.
“The solution in this province is actually dealing with the root of the problem, which is embedded in the judicial system.”
Westerlund said she’s concerned about losing federal funding for the RCMP, because it would add more policing costs to municipalities that are already walking a thin line financially.
“$10 million is a drop in the bucket,” said Westerlund about the province’s financial pledge to Grande Prairie. “Upfront it looks sparkly and shiny, but what about five years from now?”
In a statement, New Democrat justice critic Irfan Sabir said that the province’s policing model could put more costs on taxpayers.
“Instead of keeping Albertans safe, (Premier) 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.”
Ellis said that he’s spoken with several communities about implementing a municipal police force.
Dylan Topal, his press secretary, said that the province is having preliminary conversations, adding that they don’t want to release the names of the communities before moving on to more serious discussions.
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.