A proponent of establishing civilian oversight for the St. Albert RCMP has suggested Mayor Nolan Crouse’s call for public consultation is a deliberate attempt to delay the process.
Al Bohachyk, long a vocal supporter of establishing a policing committee in St. Albert, said he was disappointed but not surprised that Crouse gave notice that he would bring forward a motion calling for some public consultation on the proposed policing committee bylaw. Council gave first reading to the bylaw May 1, after close to a year of discussion about what a policing committee would entail.
“There is a lot of support for improving the accountability and the transparency of how the RCMP are managed in town, and I believe that to take a step now to engage a public consultation process is reasonably named a delay tactic,” he said. “I hope the majority of council do not support this delay.”
Crouse balked at the suggestion that his motion was a delaying tactic. He said it is an attempt to hear from residents on a major change with respect to how police in St. Albert are held accountable. The motion, which is expected to be on council’s agenda May 15, calls for consultation online and through advertising and a report back to council by July.
“When people have the opportunity to read the bylaw, they may have something they want to add or subtract or change. It’s no different than a land-use bylaw or anything else. You get input,” he said. “That’s a fascinating perspective that it’s a possible delay tactic.”
He said he has only actually heard from three residents specifically on this issue, including Bohachyk who said he represents a group called St. Albert Citizens for a Policing Committee. Bohachyk has declined to say who the group members are, or even how many there are.
“We are a small group of St. Albert residents with an extensive policing background,” he said, adding the concerns about the group’s composition are a “red herring.”
The policing committee would be a committee to which council would delegate its role of liaising with the municipal police force, a role that is contracted to the RCMP. Currently the detachment commander liaises with council via the mayor; under the proposed bylaw the detachment commander would liaise with the committee chair, and the committee would in turn liaise with council. The intention would be to create more public oversight of the St. Albert RCMP.
Bohachyk raised two specific concerns with the first version of the bylaw: first, that a section exists to allow RCMP an effective veto over committee composition, and second that the time required for the committee to publish meeting agendas was too short. Council will also debate amendments addressing both of those concerns.
Staff Sgt. Jeff Jacobson, who is the acting detachment commander for the St. Albert RCMP, said in an email there are several options for the city in how to manage the policing contract, whether through a policing committee or otherwise. The change, from his perspective, would be limited to how police information is reported and how priorities are established, although he doesn’t necessarily have a preference.
“The RCMP will support whatever decision is made for how the city would like to manage the agreement,” he said.