Tsuut'ina police want equal treatment, more money from Ottawa and province

The Tsuut'ina Nation Police Service says money from the provincial and federal governments doesn't come close to addressing the nation's policing needs.

Police chief asks for 'nothing more, but certainly nothing less,' than other law enforcement agencies get

Keith Blake, chief of the Tsuut'ina Nation Police Service, says the force has been 'historically underfunded' by both Ottawa and the province of Alberta. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

Tsuut'ina police say funding from the provincial and federal government doesn't come close to addressing the nation's needs.

"The First Nation policing program has been doing so much with so little for so long," said chief Keith Blake, speaking at the Canadian Association for Police Governance conference Thursday in Calgary.

Tsuut'ina's independent police force employs 25 officers for a community of 3,000 people, covering 250 square kilometres. Nine of those officers are funded with provincial and federal money. The other 16 are paid for entirely by the nation. 

"Our community has decided that public safety, community safety, policing is a priority," Blake said.

Tsuut'ina has a tripartite agreement with the federal and provincial governments. According to the Alberta government website, that agreement stipulates policing costs will be shared by Canada (52 per cent) and Alberta (48 per cent) "subject to the availability of funds through the budget."

But Blake said the Tsuut'ina Nation Police Service has been "historically underfunded."

"What we're wanting from a First Nation policing perspective is nothing more than what traditional policing models are funded with. If we're provided the same, comparable funding, I would suggest that we could do amazing things," he said.

Blake added that Tsuut'ina police have to rely on community grant funding to be able to run programs that seek to address the root causes of crime, such as community outreach and prevention initiatives.

Equipment upgrades needed

Tsuut'ina police commission chair Violet Meguinis says the force lacks technology that would make their jobs easier, like computers in their squad cars and their own local dispatch.

Violet Meguinis says the Tsuut'ina dispatch is currently routed through Red Deer RCMP. 'There’s a time lapse there. We at some point would like to have our own.' (Justin Pennell/CBC)

"If you don't have adequate funding for salary, it's really hard to keep and attract good officers. So far, we're doing fine. But I think we need to really monitor that," Meguinis said. 

Blake said he'd like to see changes to Alberta's Police Act, which is currently undergoing review, to treat First Nations policing more equitably.

"We don't have any recognition within the act. We are listed as an exception," Blake said. 

The First Nation police service is considered a self-administered police force, which precludes the nation from making its own officer appointments and from participating in Alberta's Special Forces Pension Plan, he explained.

"It's a very restrictive act as it stands today. And what we try and do ... is to advocate, to look to equity. Nothing more, but certainly nothing less."

With files from Lucie Edwardson and Justin Pennell