By Nikki Jamieson
Southern Alberta Newspapers
Policing in the province was the featured subject at an AUMA summit this month.
The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) President’s Summit on Policing saw municipal leaders across the province join one another for a discussion on policing services, changes and advocacy. In the session on Feb. 4 open to media, AUMA hosted a zoom session focussing on the province’s Police Act Review and the Interim Police Advisory Board.
The Police Act sets out who is responsible for roving police services to Albertans, oversight and governance, requirements for police officers and complaint handling processes.
Under the act, urban municipalities with populations over 5,000 must arrange to provide policing services in their communities, and urban municipalities with populations of 5,000 or less, and all rural municipalities regardless of population, receive policing services from the RCMP under the provincial policing contract between Alberta and the federal government.
Currently, only seven municipalities in Alberta with populations of over 5,000 have their own police service — Camrose, Calgary, Edmonton, Lacombe, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat and Taber — while the majority of the rest of those municipalities contract the RCMP for policing services.
“The Police Act itself does not establish a funding model, it only sets out who is responsible for providing, and therefor paying, for police services. As I mentioned before, urban municipalities with a population of over 5,000 must provide and pay for their own policing. Town, villages and summer villages with a population of under 5,000, and municipal districts and counties, are covered by the provincial police service, and only pay a cost for policing is required to do so by regulation,” said Angela Duncan, deputy mayor of the Village of Alberta Beach and AUMA Director of Villages West. “Until last year, there was no regulation requiring these municipalities to pay.”
Duncan said that today, the province provides grants to municipalities requiring policing to help offset those costs, and the federal government also covers a portion of policing costs for those who are served by the RCMP. Historically, for municipalities with populations under 5,000, the federal government covered 70 per cent of costs with the province covered the remaining 30 per cent.
In September 2019, the province had released a draft police costing model for municipalities that do not currently pay directly for RCMP services, and the Justice and Solicitor General also conducted a survey and accepted written submissions on the model, with engagement closing in October 2019. The policing cost model was announced that December, with the regulations coming into effect last year.
The previous NDP government had started a review of the Police Act in late 2018, although following the 2019 provincial election in spring 2019, it appeared to be put on hold.
However, the Minister of Justice announced in June 2020 that work to modernize the Police Act would be expedited, and according to AUMA, the Justice and Solicitor General has indicated that a report on the review will go to cabinet in spring 2021, with any legislative amendments to be tabled in the fall.
AUMA has been advocating for years for changes to policing services, and in their review submission, they identified three key priorities for municipalities: the Police Act should specify a new, more equitable funding model for police services, where all municipalities contribute to the cost of policing; that Alberta must have a mechanism that allows municipalities to have a say in establishing local policing priorities; and Albertans need to feel safe and protected in their communities.
“The Police Act should also ensure that all Albertans have equitable access to police service, regardless of who provides it, and our submission proposed a set of principles for the overall act, as well as a new funding model,” said Barry Morishita, mayor of Brooks and AUMA president.
“One of the things that we were advocating for, just like lots of rural communities was, to have the proper staffing level at the provincial level to make sure there was enough resources, because we had issues, some issues around resources being spread too thin for a lot of the reasons that are being talked about here, vacancies and whatnot. It was really our hope that by putting more resources in and coming up with a really good provincial plan, that there would be a more efficient and more effective police service rendered from all of this change.”
More information on AUMA’s work and the review can be found online at auma.ca/advocacy-services/programs-initiatives/policing-hub.