Grande Prairie looks at creating own police service in lieu of RCMP

Grande Prairie will be exploring the possibility of creating its own municipal police service.

City council approved $250,000 for a detailed transition and public consultation plan last Wednesday (Sept. 28) in a special council meeting.

“I believe that this report will be significant in our decision-making,” said Jackie Clayton, Grande Prairie mayor.

“It will come back as a detailed transition plan (and) it will help us make a better decision.

“It will be so detailed and granular that it will show the impacts, the cost, the risks and the benefits.”

The decision comes after council was presented a Police Service Model Review at a Committee of the Whole meeting on Sept. 27.

“If the province were to put in a provincial police force, that would take away the opportunity for the municipality to have a contract with the RCMP, which in turn would leave us limited options,” Clayton told the News.

“The study that went to council was for consideration of a municipal police force, a regional police force, or using a provincial police force or if the provincial police force wasn't instituted keeping the existing contract.”

Currently, the city contracts its municipal police services through the RCMP with a Municipal Police Services Agreement (MPSA).

“MPSAs are available through the Provincial Police Service Agreement (PPSA) between the (province) and RCMP,” reads the Police Service Model Review.

“If the (province) were to form a new Provincial Police Service, the RCMP will no longer be available to provide municipal contract policing in the City of Grande Prairie or elsewhere in Alberta.”

Chris Manuel, the city’s protective and social services director, explained that creating a report on creating a municipal police service would be highly detailed.

“This is really not just a report that would indicate another high-level analysis to say there's an opportunity here; this is the detailed A-to-Z on how to operationalize a police service if it's so chosen to do that,” said Manuel.

Clayton said community consultations would also give council insight into residents’ wants and needs.

The cost is expected to be between $10-20 million range, Manuel reported to the Committee of the Whole meeting.

He noted those costs will be determined in detail in the review.

“We see this as phase one of a multi-phase process to really truly assess in a meaningful way what the opportunities are for (city) policing,” said Manuel.

“What we're seeing is that the report illustrates that Grande Prairie has its own unique circumstances that require its own unique approach.”

He said policing is the largest expenditure for the city and has significant implications on the quality of life here.

The Police Service Model Review explored multiple options, including contracting a provincial police service, a regional service, and a municipal service.

In the end, a municipal service was chosen due to concerns about the longevity of contract police services.

Staffing has also become a concern, as administrators see the RCMP struggling to keep members here.

“(When the) RCMP … look at staffing, they have to look at how are they balancing out their staffing needs across all municipalities and jurisdictions in which they're policing, and it's a complex formula with a limited number of resources,” said Manuel.

If the city moves forward with a municipal police service, changes are expected in the service delivery model, said Manuel.

“What we actually envisioned is a policing service where half of the membership is actually civilian or civilian-type positions such as peace officers and outreach workers and mental health therapists and those sorts of things that are responding in conjunction or in replacement of the police and resources based on certain criteria and risk assessment.

“Additionally, those are all housed under one operational command and given equal footing.”

He noted there will still be a need for police in the criminal justice system for certain calls of service.

Manuel said there would be no gaps in service: A hybrid model of a city police force and RCMP would function for a transition period of about two years.

Clayton says it will also require support from the province.

“This is not something that we simply would do overnight and nor would we do it on our own. It would involve financial and operational support from the province, but it would be a transition over a number of years,” she said.

City coun. Mike O’Conner points to the current uncertainty around policing across Canada. “I think it's important for our citizens to know that at any point in time, the federal government could remove contract leasing, and I think it's important for us to now to leave and plan ahead.”

Meanwhile, mayor Clayton said she hopes to see the review back early next year, and “encourages the community to get involved and get engaged.”

She said the discussions in the new year will be thorough, noting many city departments including human resources, IT and administration will be involved.

A third party will now begin to assess the viability of the municipal police service at a “granular level” along with in-depth public consultation, said the city.

“We know that every single day, RCMP work hard to keep our community safe and to really provide a service that is adequate and our needs; however, it isn't always necessarily aligning with the immediate needs because the RCMP, in turn, report to the RCMP and not per se to the priorities of the community directly.”

Jesse Boily, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News