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Council to explore costs of switching to municipal police force

Coun. Ken MacKay explained that he wants to know what options are available for St. Albert, although he is not absolutely committed to pursuing the business case if costs are too high.
Coun. Ken MacKay has requested administration develop an estimate for how much it would cost to develop a business case for a transition from the RCMP to a municipal police service. JACK FARRELL/St. Albert Gazette

St. Albertans will soon have an idea on the costs involved for developing a business case for the creation of a municipal police force in the city. 

At the end of the Tuesday, March 21 council meeting, Coun. Ken MacKay submitted an information request asking for more information on what it would cost the city to develop a business case for transitioning from policing services provided by the RCMP to a municipal police service, as was recently done by the city council of Grande Prairie, Alberta. 

“Considering the recent decision made by the City of Grande Prairie to establish a municipal police service, also with this decision coming at a time when the provincial government is possibly terminating its' RCMP service contract in favour of a provincial police force, can administration provide information on what would be involved in preparing a business case for the creation of a municipal police service for the City of St. Albert,” MacKay said during the meeting. 

The business case would include “outlining local needs, capital requirements, and transition considerations.”

MacKay explained that he wants to know what options are available for St. Albert, although he is not absolutely committed to pursuing the business case if costs are too high.

“The day after Grande Prairie made the decision, and it was coincidence, but the Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Management, Mike Ellis, had called in a number of the regional mayors and councillors for a meeting ... to put it out there that if anybody was also thinking about doing this, they had the community policing grant that would be available,” he said.

The Alberta government's community policing grant is for up to $30,000 for Indigenous communities or municipalities that, with the majority of their council in favour, decide to study the feasibility of transitioning to a municipal police service, as seen in Edmonton, Calgary, and Medicine Hat.

“I don't even believe that would be near enough,” MacKay said of the $30,000 grant. “When the (Edmonton Metropolitan Transit Services Commission) was first getting started the province gave over $4 million.”

“Those are some of the kinds of questions I'm asking administration to prepare a backgrounder on because in case these circumstances come up, I want to be prepared.”

MacKay, who spent 34 years with the Edmonton Police Service and five years with the Alberta government as an investigator in the Office of the Child and Youth Advocate prior to being elected to council in 2017, said there wasn't a policing problem in St. Albert, however, since the federal government is currently undergoing a review of the RCMP's contract policing prior to the 2032 expiry of all current contracts, he wants to be prepared for any changes.

“We don't have a policing problem but we have to be ready to respond if any one of these issues comes up and I'd much rather be out in front of them,” he said. 

Mayor Cathy Heron, who's been a vocal opponent of the Alberta government's consideration of establishing a provincial police force, told The Gazette that following through on developing a business case for a transition to a municipal police service is “not off the table” for her. 

“I have a high level of regard and support for RCMP — we have a great relationship in St. Albert with our local detachment,” Heron said, adding, “I feel that we have great communication, input, governance, accountability — it's all there — so any move to a (municipal police service) would be no reflection on what we currently have.”

Heron explained that despite St. Albert and Grande Prairie having similar population numbers, the local policing situation is much different from what was identified in Grande Prairie and used by sitting councillors to argue for the creation of a municipal police service.

Grande Prairie's decision to transition earlier this month came after four years of research conducted and commissioned by the city, according to an article published by the Grande Prairie Daily Herald-Tribune.

The transition, expected to take place gradually over the next five years, is estimated to cost at least $19 million. To aid in funding the transition costs, the provincial government has granted the city $9.7 million over the next two years. 

During the Grande Prairie council meeting on March 6, which lasted over nine hours, Mayor Jackie Clayton as well as all but one councillor expressed their desire to create a municipal police service with the goal of improving officer and service leadership retention, reducing bureaucracy, and enhancing community responsiveness. 

Prior to voting, Coun. Chris Thiessen, the lone opposition vote against the transition, said he wished council had taken more time to make the decision. 

“The decision we make today will be felt maybe not by us (but) definitely two councils down the road,” Thiessen said. “Probably at the end of the next council term when they'll be looking at the tax implications and trying to save their own political hides while a new council gets to endeavour on potentially picking up the extra tab on the tax increases later on down the road.”

In response to Thiessen's comments, Coun. Dylan Bressey said he felt that the unpredictable nature of RCMP cost increases disproved any cost savings argument for sticking with the RCMP.

“The RCMP model itself doesn't give us predictable, stable, safe costs,” Bressey said. 

“We don't seem to know year-to-year what it's going to be and if the aim is cost-savings and cost-control it's not like we're getting that in our current model.”

Mayor Clayton was unavailable for an interview. 

Jack Farrell

About the Author: Jack Farrell

Jack Farrell joined the St. Albert Gazette in May, 2022.
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