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Policing: small towns paying more for less

Posted on April 18, 2024 by Vauxhall Advance

By Cal Brai
Vauxhall Advance
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On April 15, Mike Ellis, minister of public safety and emergency services, held a media roundtable with rural reporters to shed some light on the current state of policing in the province.

After an introduction in which he said he wanted to dispel some of the misinformation that municipalities have received regarding RCMP funding, he said, “Vacancy rates within Alberta’s RCMP detachments have been an ongoing concern for Alberta’s government. This is not an issue that’s unique to Alberta.” The RCMP have had staffing issues right across the country, from BC to New Brunswick, basically in every place that has contract policing.

The fact that staffing issues persist doesn’t lower the demand for a proactive and alert police force though. 

“It does not matter if you live in a remote community in remote Alberta or in downtown Edmonton, if you call 911 the expectation is that a police officer is going to arrive to help you, especially in a very timely manner,” Ellis said. “Unfortunately, that is not always the case, especially in rural Alberta and (from) what I have heard from other colleagues of mine from across this country. It’s no slight on the hard-working men and women serving on our frontlines to protect our communities across the province.”

Ellis, a former police officer, said he has “nothing but the utmost respect for all those wonderful constables, corporals, and sergeants that are out there working as hard as they can day-to-day to do the best they can.”

On average the Alberta RCMP has a vacancy rate of 21.6 per cent. The entire province is being served by 1,498 of the 1,911 RCMP officers that the federal government has authorized for Alberta. 

“So make no mistake, we are paying for these services that we are not receiving,” Ellis said. “That is over 400 RCMP officer positions for boots that are not on the ground.”

The vacancies include 177 officers who are on leave, but are costing the province $16 million.

The 2024 provincial budget designated $377.8 million for RCMP funding, and Ellis hopes that multiple policing agencies can work in tandem to provide prompt help when it’s needed most. With municipal forces, the RCMP, Indigenous police and a variety of peace officers in place, the province is considering a move to improve the training of Alberta Sheriffs peace officers in order that they might function as official police officers. Either way, Ellis isn’t satisfied with the level of service that rural residents are receiving.

Locally, the Town of Vauxhall participates in a cost-sharing program with the provincial government and has seen their costs rise dramatically in the past four years. In 2021, the Town paid $21,006. In 2022, it contributed $31,529. In 2023, it paid $47,102, and now this year it owes $70,209. In 2023, the RCMP decided to vacate the house in town that was once occupied by local officers.

During the roundtable Q&A with Ellis, a reporter from the Macleod Gazette told the minister that small towns with a population under 5,000 were seeing a similar trend in rising costs for policing that did not translate into better service or lower crime statistics. Ellis acknowledged the problem and then moved on to a discussion about recruiting. He said that the RCMP is planning on refining their placement program, in which new recruits once were fair game to be sent and stationed anywhere in the country. It now wants to attract new officers by giving them more choice over where they’ll be stationed.

Either way, the state of policing is lacking in remote areas. The minister said it’s not for a lack of support. 

“There are certain areas in Alberta where there is not 24/7 coverage. That’s something that is unacceptable, so I’m trying to do things where I can to think outside of the box in order to meet those needs.”

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