A group of retired police officers and concerned citizens has started a website to inform St. Albertans of the benefits of establishing a policing committee.
They say there is a lack of visible police presence on the streets of St. Albert and a lack of publicly available data. The group began researching ways to help improve police services in Alberta.
“Over the last number of years we’ve been aware of many citizen complaints about an absence of police visibility on the streets,” said Al Bohachyk, a retired Edmonton Police Services officer and resident of St. Albert. “That was the impetus to exploring what was going on with police management.”
St. Albert had a RCMP Community Advisory Committee, which informed the RCMP of concerns in the community. Former detachment commander Inspector Kevin Murray disbanded the committee in 2015, stating in a letter addressed to council that the committee was no longer fulfilling its mandate.
He also felt that the advisory committee was, at best, duplicating the work of the Strategic Action and Mobilization committee, which brings together a number of groups, school divisions and ministerial officials to address social issues in the community.
But Bohachyk said this group would be different than its predecessor. Not only would a policing committee act as a “barometer of public concern,” but it would have some say in shaping of policing priorities.
He thinks a group of dedicated and informed individuals could really help make a difference in improving the quality of policing and ensuring that the community voice is heard when establishing priorities.
St. Albert RCMP detachment commander Insp. Ken Foster said he appreciates the passion of the group and is open to the establishing a policing committee, but only if it will be effective.
“I don’t know that we would hear or learn anything different than what we’re already hearing and learning,” said Foster, who said that he has never worked in a detachment that values public consultation as much as St. Albert.
Priorities are established after extensive formal and informal community consultation, with groups such as mayor and council, members of the St. Albert Strategic Action and Mobilization committee, members of the St. Albert Youth Working Group, St. Albert Seniors Working Group and PFLAG groups.
“The work we do in this community, and this is my 12th location, is so advanced and there’s so much of it,” he said.
Foster wanted to clarify a few inaccuracies on the website, such as the perceived lack of civilian oversight within the detachment.
The RCMP has multiple levels of oversight – from the Alberta Serious Incidence Response Team to the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission to the Attorney and Solicitor General.
Foster also said that it is difficult to compare the police to population ratio when comparing municipal police forces to RCMP detachments.
Municipal policing services are required to staff their own bomb squads, canine units, and more, contributing to a ratio of one officer to 550 citizens, whereas the 112 RCMP detachments in Alberta have access to these teams under a shared agreement.
The group is encouraging residents to inform themselves on the benefits of a policing committee and to visit the website: policingstalbert.ca.
They have also prepared a customer satisfaction survey, which includes a question about the desire to see a policing committee established in St. Albert. The results will be presented to council and to the provincial government.
The group was happy to see the RCMP release its first public quarterly report last week, saying it was a good start to addressing the concerns about public accountability.
City administration was instructed in April to prepare a bylaw or terms of reference related to a policing committee for city council’s consideration.