Alta. The government is committing nearly $10 million to a possible Grande Prairie city police force
The city of Grande Prairie is considering creating a city police force that could take over the RCMP by 2027.
Public Safety and Emergency Services Secretary Mike Ellis says the Alberta government is willing to give the northwest Alberta city of 64,000 people $9.7 million over two years to offset the estimated cost of $19 million -dollars to cover an exchange.
Ellis said other unnamed Alberta cities currently under RCMP surveillance are also considering a municipal or provincial police service. He didn’t want to name a number. The province would also fund these transitions, he said.
“This is part of a paradigm shift that is occurring in policing across Alberta,” Ellis said at a news conference in Grande Prairie on Wednesday. “The police services are no longer seen and used as an arm of the state. Rather, they must be an extension, or rather a reflection, of the communities they serve.”
Grande Prairie Council has not yet made a final decision on the continued establishment of a city police force. City councilors are scheduled to discuss the proposal at a meeting on March 6. RCMP has patrolled the city since 1937.
Mayor Jackie Clayton said the city began exploring the idea about two years ago, beginning with a review of local policing. In September 2022, the city commissioned MNP and paid the organization $250,000 to complete a viability and transition study.
Clayton said Wednesday some potential benefits of a city policing service could include better recruitment and retention of officers and other personnel, policing that reflects community priorities and more local training opportunities.
“This is not anti-RCMP sentiment,” Clayton said. “This is about finding the best service that is the most efficient and serves our community as well as possible.”
The government’s funding commitment will allow councilors to make a decision based on the best policing option for Grande Prairie, rather than worrying about the financial implications of a switch, she said. The funding is subject to the province passing its budget, which will be presented on February 28.
Police recruitment challenges persist in Grande Prairie
The MNP report indicates that Grande Prairie leaders are concerned about the long-term viability of RCMP policing in larger communities, recruitment issues, the rising cost of RCMP services, and navigating the bureaucracy of the national armed forces.
Although the Grande Prairie RCMP has the budget for 110 officers, it has not been fully staffed in the past five years, the report said.
The Metropolitan Police Transition Team proposes a five-year transition period to a Metropolitan Police Service with 100 officers, along with 76 civilian auxiliaries, 31 peacekeeping officers and 13 outreach staff.
The city currently pays 90 percent of the police’s operating costs, with the federal government covering the remaining 10 percent.
Doug King, a law professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says no matter who heads the Grande Prairie police force, recruiting and retaining suitable officers will continue to be a challenge — as it is across the country.
Civil service pay in the city has to be comparable to Edmonton or Calgary to keep it in Grande Prairie, King said.
King likes the idea of cities having police forces with community-led priorities. However, this would mean that the city would take over some specialized services it now receives from the Alberta RCMP, such as: B. Collision reconstruction, neutralization of explosives, covert operations and underwater recovery.
King says the city needs to consider costs like recruiting a high-profile police chief and assuming liability for lawsuits against the police.
“It deserves its own police department,” King said, noting Grande Prairie’s population growth. “And if they can do it, go ahead and do it. Just know what you inherit. You inherit many problems that you have yet to foresee.”
Alberta RCMP spokesman Fraser Logan said in a statement that the organization supports community input into local policing decisions.
“The Grande Prairie RCMP is proud to serve the residents of Grande Prairie and we remain focused on community safety and providing residents with a professional policing service,” he wrote.
The provincial announcement comes as the United Conservative Party government continues to consider establishing a provincial police service in Alberta.
Although Ellis’ subsequent mandate from Prime Minister Danielle Smith instructs him to work with Justice and Local Affairs Ministers to set up a provincial police service, Ellis reiterated on Wednesday that the Government has yet to make a final decision.
He said the government’s decision on a provincial policing service will not affect its commitment to help Grande Prairie establish a city policing service, should it choose to do so. Solutions to improve public safety will be unique to different parts of the province, he said.