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Alberta Municipalities say more clarity needed on safety task force

Posted on September 8, 2022 by Sunny South News

By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News

The Alberta Municipalities’ (ABmunis) Board of Directors has issued an updated statement regarding the proposed Alberta Provincial Police Service (APPS), recruitment challenges, and the possibility of creating a provincial public safety task force.

The Alberta Municipalities’ Board of Directors sat down with Alberta’s Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, Tyler Shandro, recently to discuss the proposed service and the future of policing in the province.

In a Sept. 1 media release, ABmunis called the discussion between the two parties, “constructive,” and thanked Shandro for “outlining his government’s rationale and vision” for the APPS. However, ABmunis voiced concerns over the other implications of a provincial service, and pointed out the RCMP was listening and incorporating feedback and “making great strides in community policing.”

ABmunis said they believe the idea “has merit,” and added the province must include all stakeholders in the discussion about developing a public safety model for the future.

“We believe that if the ministry wants to improve policing and public safety, it needs to stop planning and designing a policing model in a silo or vacuum (…) An effective task force must include Alberta Health Services, community and social services, municipalities, the federal government, and the RCMP themselves.”

ABmunis’ statement also included the association’s future participation in such a task force “hinges on its stated mandate or purpose,” which was neither presented nor discussed during the meeting between the board of directors and Shandro.

“If the task force’s mandate is to develop models and solutions to improve public safety in our communities and throughout the province, regardless of who delivers community policing in Alberta, then we are ready to take part. If, however, its mandate is to continue with the model as currently proposed and/or how to transition to an Alberta Provincial Police Service, then our member municipalities have been clear that they do not support this direction and they would need to be consulted to determine our association’s further involvement,” read ABmunis’ statement.

The ABmunis board also expressed scepticism over the Alberta government’s ability to fill new officer positions under the proposed new model and suggested that recruitment in Alberta is currently being impacted by the optics of uncertainty as conversations surrounding the future of community policing in Alberta continues.

In a recent interview with the CBC, Shandro said of staffing, “The RCMP are exempt from the Police Act. There are ways we can tell them what our priorities are, but we don’t have police commissions and we don’t have public meetings where the public can sit down and listen to a police commission debate a budget, debate staffing levels.”

So far, the province has maintained a primary driving force for the APPS has been the lack of provincial oversight, but Alberta’s Commanding Officer, Curtis Zablocki, maintained, “Our budget and staffing levels are determined by the Government of Alberta, the provincial policing priorities are developed with their oversight and approval, and we report on strategic and budget performance measurements on a regular basis.”

ABmunis’ most recent statement said, “The provincial government provides input on the hiring of the provincial leadership of the RCMP, sets the RCMP’s budget, sets policing priorities and can integrate mental health and social supports when faced with the complex policing challenges that Alberta’s communities face.”

In the same CBC interview, Shandro called the debate about the cost of an APPS a “red herring” but many municipalities are not convinced the move would not shift an extra financial burden onto municipalities. With an estimated $300 million in transition fees, plus an additional $200 million per year above and beyond what is currently being spent on policing in Alberta, some critics are struggling with whether the move would be fiscally conservative.

The ABmunis board concluded, “Too many questions remain unanswered. Our board encourages the Government of Alberta to look past political differences and agendas and do what is right for all Albertans. Our province’s future public safety depends on it.”

Alberta Municipalities is a solutions-based advocacy group which represents and advocates on behalf of urban municipalities in Alberta including Coaldale, Coalhurst, Picture Butte, and Nobleford.

County Reeve Tory Campbell said in a recent council meeting that following a meeting earlier this spring with Zablocki and his team at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta convention, a letter of correspondence was returned to the County as a follow-up.

“One of the things he (Zablocki) stresses in the letter is to report crime. If you see something, make sure you report it. If we hear about something secondhand, make sure we are encouraging people to report,” and said this gives the RCMP the ability to build a database and is“a huge asset to have that information.”

Since talks of the APPS began early this year, Lethbridge County has been steadfast in their support of the RCMP, despite some remaining opportunities for improving levels of service in some rural areas.

In the letter to County council dated July 7, Zablocki said he is, “thankful for that relationship that goes down to the local level, as well with the detachment in Coaldale.”

On Aug. 16, Zablocki also released an official updated Statement on the Province’s Police Service Deployment Model report. Zablocki said the proposed framework for a provincial model “appears to be very similar to the current model of the Alberta RCMP.

The same statement read, “The Alberta RCMP have always been willing to work alongside the Government of Alberta to ensure transparency and accountability in our service delivery.”

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