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Alberta rural communities eye cost, mechanics of proposed provincial police force

Leaders of some rural communities say they'd like to know how an independent provincial police force would work, and how much it would cost, to replace RCMP detachments across Alberta.

'No question' replacing the RCMP will be costly for counties, High River mayor says

The Alberta government announced Wednesday it would conduct detailed technical studies into the merits of creating a provincial police force after its 'fair deal' panel recommended replacing the RCMP. (Valerie Zink/Reuters)

Leaders of some rural communities say they'd like to know how an independent provincial police force would work, and how much it would cost, to replace RCMP detachments across Alberta.

Jennifer Handley, mayor of Nanton, said her southern Alberta community has been working with RCMP to improve coverage. Should the province decide to replace the RCMP, she said she would support that decision but hopes it would come with federal and provincial funding to off set the cost.

"We can't afford anything more, so definitely there's the concern if there's a provincial police that there will be more burden on smaller communities," Handley said.

On Wednesday, the Alberta government-appointed 'fair deal' panel released a report that recommended Alberta start a provincial police force to replace the RCMP.

The report noted that many rural residents feel dissatisfied with the RCMP, in particular with how officers are transferred in and out of communities. 

However, the report also found adding a provincial police force would result in the province and municipalities shouldering the higher cost that's currently subsidized by the federal government. The federal government pays $112 million annually for Alberta policing.

Jennifer Handley is the mayor of the Town of Nanton in southern Alberta. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

As a result of that recommendation, Alberta will be studying the idea of a provincial police force further.

On Wednesday evening, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the province has to provide three years' notice to cancel the RCMP contract.

"I think it would make a lot of sense in principle for Alberta to have a provincial police service that is based in this province, that is made up of Albertans, that understands this province," Kenney said on a Facebook Live. "The RCMP is run out of Ottawa, a distant place. They have so many different mandates."

He noted the RCMP manage everything from national security to patrolling highways. He also noted that Newfoundland, Quebec and Ontario have their own provincial police services.

Kenney said he believes an Alberta police force could potentially make a significant improvement to policing in rural Alberta.

WATCH | Jason Kenney on an Alberta police force:

The Alberta government is weighing whether it wants to create its own police force for rural areas to replace the RCMP. Here's what Premier Jason Kenney thinks on the issue from a Facebook live town hall he held this week. 4:09

Handley said the bulk of crime in the Nanton area is petty crime, such as thefts from unlocked vehicles.

"It doesn't matter if it's the Alberta police force or if it's the RCMP, but it needs to make fiscal sense as well [as ensure] that level of service that we get in our community," Handley said, adding the community paid $45,000 toward policing this year.

"We don't know what this is going to look like. We just want to make sure that our residents are safe and that we continue to deliver the level of service that they expect."

Staffing, money

Craig Snodgrass, the mayor of High River, said he appreciates that the UCP government is exploring the issue, as promised during the election campaign.

But he said he wants to know how officials will make it possible.

"It's going to be more expensive for the rural [municipal districts] and counties. There's just no question," Snodgrass said.

"If it goes to provincial, it'll definitely impact our town budget with what we pay for enforcement. But it'll be a massive change for the rural counties and [municipal districts] because they don't pay that right now."

Snodgrass said a key concern for him, beyond the cost, is finding the staff. He noted the High River detachment has lacked a full staff complement for some time.

The mayor said he and council have a good relationship with those who do work there, and that council has not discussed the possibility of replacing them.

"On the surface, it all looks great," he said. "It'll be a big change, so it'll be interesting to see what comes out of this."

'Business as usual isn't working'

Suzanne Oel is president of the High Country Rural Crime Watch Association. She and her team of volunteers cover the Turner Valley policing region, from the southern border of Foothills County to the Tsuut'ina Nation.

"I think it's a good thing they've really listened to Albertans," she said of the government, "and they understand that, for us, business as usual isn't working."

Like High River's mayor, Oel said she has questions about the cost and mechanics of running a provincial police force. She said she wonders if it would affect the layout of detachments and be more effective than the RCMP at reaching rural and remote areas.

"There's some unknown quantities to this, but we look forward to the investigation," Oel said. "But this all comes at a cost, and we have to figure out if our aspirations are equal to what we're willing to pay for them."

With files from Terri Trembath

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