Policing flexibility ignored by province

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It appears both the provincial government and RCMP have put little to no stock in a recommendation from the head of the Air India inquiry suggesting the Canada-wide force restrict its policing to issues of national importance. While the costs might have been prohibitive, there is merit to exploring the idea of getting the Mounties out of the business of contract policing.

The argument has little to do with the presence of the force in Alberta and its long, distinguished history and continued good service in the province’s municipalities, large and small, and more to do with ensuring policing methods at all three levels of government are focused, responsive and effective. Yet the Alberta government, with apparently little analysis short of a study conducted almost eight years ago, is ready to extend its policing contract with the RCMP for another 20 years once the current deal expires in 2012.

John Major, who investigated the terrorist-related deaths of 331 people in the Air India bombings and the subsequent government, police and security response to it, recommended in his final report that the RCMP pull out of the business of contract policing. As it stands in Alberta, the Mounties provide policing services here on a contract basis, with the province covering 70 per cent of the cost and receiving a 30 per cent subsidy from Ottawa. Municipalities with a population of more than 5,000 people — such as St. Albert and Morinville — negotiate their own contracts with the force.

The argument is not intended as a slight against the services the RCMP offer, but food for thought considering the national force’s sprawling responsibilities, which extend from heady nationwide interests such as terrorism and espionage right down to vandalism in Alberta’s smallest hamlets. Criminal Code offences, financial malfeasance, traffic tickets and providing security for international summits and personal protection for the prime minister and numerous other responsibilities all fall under the RCMP’s bailiwick. Major’s argument was that if the RCMP was truly a national force, to simply give it national responsibilities and let provinces and municipalities police themselves — similar to situations in Ontario and Quebec.

There has been no provincial police force in Alberta since 1932 when the Alberta Provincial Police was disbanded as a Great Depression-era cost-cutting measure. The issue was briefly revisited in 2003 by the ruling Tories and found too expensive. The government says it has incorporated recommendations from a 2007 audit by KPMG to ensure the force in Alberta is more responsive to Alberta policy and subsequent needs. Yet if the RCMP is going to concern itself with national interests, it stands to reason it should consider restricting its focus to that domain and contemplate other models of community policing. There might be ways a new model of contract policing could be more flexible to the demands of the province. As it stands, staffing new officers anywhere in Alberta is an exercise in dental extraction.

It appears the Tories had little interest in exploring the future of policing in Alberta. Granted there is nothing wrong on the face of it, with the current arrangement but both the force and the province have missed out on an opportunity to look at how policing could be better adapted to Alberta’s specific needs. The Mounties’ rich history in Alberta is meaningful, but signing on for another 20 years without so much as a thought otherwise, particularly after Major’s recommendation, is unfortunate. As the world changes, the Mounties’ national role will evolve and it should have as many resources as possible to avail itself of. If Ontario and Quebec can find ways to police themselves, why can’t we?

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