Proactive policing means doing more with what we have
by Zef Ordman
Last week, Premier Danielle Smith announced in her mandate letters to cabinet members that she is likely forging ahead with the establishment of a provincial police force. During her leadership campaign, Smith endorsed her predecessor’s preoccupation with having a “made in Alberta’ police force to respond to rural and urban crime.
In a city like Red Deer which has been long served by a large RCMP detachment, this latest move hardly comes as good news. I was born and raised in Red Deer, and returned to raise a family here. I work in federal corrections, previously as a guard and, more recently, as a federal Parole Officer.
In this role, I have interacted with hundreds of federal offenders who are serving time for major crimes. Consequently, I've learned more than I ever expected about the justice system and policing agencies in this province. Albertans should certainly expect top notch policing, no matter who is providing it. And when something goes wrong, the police need to be there to protect us.
Alberta's police forces also need to be held accountable so that they provide a high level of service and keep our communities safe.
From what I have seen, supplementing the role of the RCMP with a more localized provincial police force, or replacing the RCMP altogether, would not reap the benefits one might think in much of Alberta, urban or rural.
Having spent thousands of hours up close with federal offenders in an effort to break the cycle of crime, a very high percentage of inmates are contending with deeply entrenched substance abuse and addictions issues.
Inside and outside of federal penitentiaries, gangs have a major role to play in fostering those addictions and the illicit drug trade in general, courtesy of sophisticated organized crime groups who work across borders to fuel well-oiled distribution networks.
To have any chance of disrupting these networks, and addictions overall, we need specialized policing agencies that are national and international in scope, and have the resources and tools to stop them in their tracks.
Highly localized policing is not the answer to this challenge, but rather more robust criminal investigations led by the RCMP and urban police agencies in Edmonton and Calgary and beyond.
The taskforce on provincial policing also talks about using multi-disciplinary teams specializing in mental health and addictions. This is totally achievable within the existing model of 114 RCMP detachments that are well established and staffed by not just Mounties, but mostly non-uniformed locals who know their communities and the people who reside in them very well.
At the end of the day, I echo the strong desire on the part of many Albertans to have more proactive policing. But a costly transition to a provincial force that can't deliver the goods is not my version of fiscal prudence. As a Conservative, I see better ways to use my tax dollars and protect my family.
The reality is that no matter the force, policing is both very labour intensive and increasingly relies on sophisticated technology and equipment. RCMP detachments in rural, remote and even urban areas would, no doubt, benefit from having more boots on the ground and partnerships with community agencies to equip them for today's realities.
Overwhelmingly, the RCMP in Alberta is staffed by Albertans, which includes the hundreds of non-uniformed RCMP employees who support the operational backbone of the force, including high stakes investigations into child exploitation, fraud, gang violence, and related crimes. This includes right here in the Red Deer Detachment.
It’s crucial that our elected leaders have a candid conversation, not play politics, with Albertans about how to strengthen the police forces we already have, including the RCMP, which has had a major foothold in Alberta for over 100 years.
Zef Ordman was born and raised in Red Deer and supports the work of thousands of federal correctional staff in the Prairies with the National Union and Safety and Justice Employees — representing 18,000 federal public safety and justice employees across the country.
Radio Ad Nov 2022
Public safety union launches campaign to stop the transition to a provincial police force
March 30, 2022
Ottawa, ON – The nationally based Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE)—which represents over 17,000 federal public safety employees, including several thousand that work for the RCMP throughout the country—has launched a campaign in Alberta to oppose the provincial government’s potential plans to sever ties with the RCMP in favour of a proposed provincial police force.
The organization has developed a campaign website AlbertansForRCMP.ca, and has been airing radio ads in rural Alberta and major centres. They will also publish print ads in local and regional media throughout April. The goal is to raise awareness about the risks, uncertainty, and costs to Albertans to transition to a proposed provincial police force.
"Our primary concern is not just the loss of hundreds if not thousands of jobs, but the expertise and experience that the RCMP currently offers to many rural communities (and larger centres) in Alberta. We have heard loud and clear that Albertans want enhancements to policing services in the province, not the elimination of the RCMP," said President David Neufeld.
USJE also echoes the concerns of the National Police Federation, and communities who are members of the Alberta Municipalities Association. They recently voted in opposition to the provincial government’s provincial police proposal.
“ As is the case with any police force, there is always the need to improve levels of service. I can say unequivocally that the value of the RCMP in Alberta is that we are part of a national policing service that brings significant capacity. Public safety depends on a nimble and confident police force," highlighted President Neufeld.
"A transition away from the RCMP will likely present real challenges when it comes to the retention of seasoned police officers. We have seen this challenge play out in other jurisdictions and it has been far from easy. Costs are not easily controlled when you are heavily competing with many other services to hire qualified police officers and support staff," Neufeld added.
The campaign urges Albertans to join to voice their concerns about a transition to a proposed provincial police force. The website provides information one can share with their MLA or local municipal councils.
"Unfortunately, at this time, there’s simply too much uncertainty and risk to move to a provincial police force. Only one thing is certain: Albertans would lose the expertise of dedicated and experience staff who have been serving their local communities for decades.’’ added Valda Behrens, USJE Regional Vice President who lives in Alberta and supports public service employees who work for the RCMP throughout the province.
The real cost to communities served by the RCMP
by Valda Behrens
In so many ways, Alberta feels like it’s at a crossroads. The intense focus on Premier’s Kenney’s leadership is generating lots of different reactions, not surprisingly. We are nothing if not a passionate, fiercely independent province that likes to do things its own way.
That may be why Premier Kenney believes that the establishment of a made-in-Alberta provincial police force, in lieu of the RCMP, would be a positive direction for our province. He has also suggested it would be cheaper and better equipped in the long run.
As a proud Albertan, I am definitely torn. My husband and I have worked hard to raise four kids who all went to college and university. I now have five grandkids and counting! As a middle class family, we have cared deeply about making every dollar count.
At the same time, I got to know the value of the RCMP through my work as a Detachment Services Assistant and Supervisor in High River for over 15 years. Consequently, I saw up close how my fellow Albertans employed by the RCMP are working incredibly hard — day in and day out — to advance public safety, oversee the prosecution of major crimes, and recruit and train staff. These folks are deeply woven into the fabric of our communities, especially in rural and remote regions.
I lived this first hand In 2016 when the now infamous wildfires which began southwest of Fort McMurray swept through the community, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta's history, with nearly 88,000 people forced from their homes. RCMP Mounties and non-uniformed staff rallied to assist emergency responders, help people evacuate and diminish the chances of looting. I was honoured to be part of that effort, leaving my school age kids and husband behind for over a week to support my fellow Albertans.
It wasn’t the first time. When catastrophic floods struck my hometown in High River in 2013, I was again called to duty as a RCMP non-uniformed employee. After ensuring my own family made it to safety, I worked 24/7 alongside uniformed personnel to coordinate rescue efforts and keep law and order.
Three thousand people had been ordered to evacuate, some of whom were reluctant to leave, worried sick about their homes and pets. One hundred and fifty had to be rescued. Remarkably, nearly 440 Canadian Forces personnel and RCMP officers came together from across the country, alongside hundreds of volunteers and police support staff, to oversee evacuation and rescue efforts.
What I have learned from being on the front lines of both of these crises is how crucial it is to have a seasoned, versatile police force that can pivot quickly, and leverage additional expertise and staff when required. In Alberta, there are 114 RCMP detachments in every corner of our province. Many of these detachments have been in existence for many decades.
While Calgary and Edmonton do have their own police forces, outside of these cities, overwhelmingly, it is the RCMP that responds to emergencies, lays charges for major crimes, including in highly sensitive areas such as sex trafficking, child pornography, and the illicit drug trade.
Uniformed officers are backed up by hundreds of dedicated operational staff that keep detachments going and do a lot of the heavy lifting of investigating and classifying evidence at regional hubs.
In Premier Kenney’s plan for a provincial police force, there is little mention of how to retain and equip non-uniformed employees who, in many respects, are the backbone of Alberta’s public safety network. They have decades of experience in various aspects of criminal justice and public safety in this province.
There is no guarantee that these folks would be retained by a provincial police force, and that all would want to go. Many consider themselves part of the RCMP family. The amount of expertise and knowledge that could get lost keeps me up at night.
So does the challenge of recruiting a whole new force. In Surrey BC, which severed its ties with the RCMP in favour of a municipal police force, the transition has been less than smooth. The competition for seasoned uniformed officers who can mentor the next generation is intense. Replacing thousands of RCMP uniformed officers in Alberta is no small feat, and no one should be pretending otherwise.
In my opinion, the expense and logistics associated with this rather complex transition are not likely to save Alberta money in the short or long term. The real cost to communities served by the RCMP are likely far higher than any report could capture.
Ultimately, I am a mother, wife and proud resident of High River. My priority is the safety and well-being of my family, my community, and province. I didn’t plan to work with the RCMP 15 years ago, but got the chance to serve as a valued member of the operational backbone, and learned an immense amount about public safety in the process.
I would urge my fellow Albertans to think carefully about the perils of a hasty decision that could severely jeopardize our province, not make it better.