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Alberta pursuing detailed study on creating provincial police service

The Alberta government will spend up to $2 million to study whether the province should have a provincial police service.

Fair Deal Panel recommended replacing RCMP

The Alberta government will spend up to $2 million studying whether it should replace RCMP with a provincial police service.

The Alberta government is searching for a contractor to do a detailed study on the potential costs, benefits and logistics of replacing RCMP services with a provincial police service.

Blaise Boehmer, press secretary to Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, said the study could cost as much as $2 million. The winning bidder would be expected to report its findings to the government by April 30, 2021.

The government is also recruiting an executive director to oversee a new Alberta Provincial Police Services transition secretariat for a two-year-term. The director job would pay between $124,000 and $164,000 a year.

Boehmer said a small group of civil servants in the secretariat will work with the study contractor to provide information and ensure it is meeting contractual obligations.

"No decisions have been made about whether to replace the RCMP in Alberta with a provincial police service," Boehmer said in an email.

"However, the formation of an APPS transition secretariat is necessary to ensure the upcoming study on this subject adequately examines the many complex questions it is being asked to consider — including operational requirements, process steps and costs."

The move comes after a panel struck last year to study how Alberta could assert itself within Confederation concluded the provincial government should create a provincial police service akin to those in Ontario and Quebec.

Albertans may recall former Premier Ralph Klein also struck a panel of nine MLAs in 2003 to examine how Alberta could "strengthen its role in Confederation and contribute to a prosperous and vibrant Canada."

In 2004, the MLA Committee on Strengthening Alberta's Role in Confederation recommended the provincial government commission a detailed study of policing alternatives to the RCMP before a federal-provincial agreement expired in 2007. Yet, rural Alberta is still served by the RCMP today.

Control comes at a cost

Although the justice minister wouldn't speculate about the cost, some academics are willing to make a ballpark estimate.

Doug King is a professor of justice studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University. Under the current agreement with the federal government, Ottawa covers 30 per cent of the cost of RCMP service in Alberta.

King said the provincial government would likely assume that $110 million annual expense, and would also be on the hook for maintaining police vehicles and the network of 117 detachment buildings.

Doug King is a justice studies professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary. (Francois Joly/Radio-Canada)

Alberta would also absorb the cost of recruiting and training officers. Not all federal police would want to stay in Alberta postings, he said. He also questions how much the Alberta government would be willing to pay provincial police officers, which would affect both costs and a service's ability to recruit.

He ballparks the additional operating costs at $150 million a year — and that doesn't include the cost of any transition.

Last month, the United Conservative Party government said it was on track for a record-setting $24-billion deficit this year.

However, King said there would be advantages to an Alberta-run police service, including increased transparency about police discipline, which is currently under public scrutiny.

There's also high turnover of RCMP officers stationed at small detachments. King said communities would like officers familiar with the area they police.

He thinks $2 million is a reasonable expense to perform an informed analysis of the costs, benefits and hurdles to a potential transition.

Kelly Sundberg is an associate professor in Mount Royal University's department of economics, justice, and policy studies. (Submitted by Kelly Sundberg)

King's Mount Royal colleague, economics, justice and policy professor Kelly Sundberg, thinks the potential benefits of provincial police justify the additional cost.

"I think that that cost is going to allow rural crime issues, suburban crime issues, to be more aligned with the community needs and the community demands," Sundberg said.

Replacing federal police with provincial ones while also reviewing Alberta's Police Act during a time people raise allegations about racism and abuses of power by police is an opportunity to revamp the whole system, Sundberg said.

He said it's a chance to professionalize police in Alberta by establishing an independent college to accredit and discipline officers, and by requiring future officers attend post-secondary courses. Those moves would improve public confidence, Sundberg said.

Assuming provincial control of policing in Alberta would also allow the RCMP to focus on national issues, such as terrorism, and allow for more First Nations to create their own police services.

NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley said she sees possible merits to the move, but questions why the government is pushing ahead during a pandemic while deficits are ballooning and public services are under strain.

"I'm a little surprised that at the time they're saying, 'Hey there's no money to create greater physical distance in schools,' that they're saying, 'Let's spend money on this.' It seems like the wrong priorities to me."

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