Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
As the National Police Federation (NPF) continues their Community Engagement Tour, Albertans have made one thing clear; they want to keep Alberta RCMP.
NPF made available the discussion guide used during presentations in both the local and virtual community engagement tour events. This guide highlighted information collected by PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC) in October 2020 as part of a transition guide to move from RCMP to an Alberta Provincial Police Force (APPS.)
However, 84% of Albertans are not in support of replacing the RCMP, according to three rounds of public interest research conducted by the NPF through Pollara Public Insights. NPF Director Kevin Halwa notes that both the response and concerns brought up have been much the same across Alberta.
71% of rural Albertans in the South report being satisfied with their current RCMP service, according to the same report, and reducing rural response times is one of the current goals of the Alberta RCMP.
“We consistently get the same type of feedback from the people that attend our sessions, they want to know what the logic is behind the transition,” said Halwa. “The Alberta Government raised money for that transition, why not use all of it for supporting the RCMP and other things that will actually affect the criminal justice system, as opposed to duplicating what’s already in place? And overwhelmingly, what we’re hearing across the province is that the public appreciates our RCMP members and supports them.”
This response isn’t surprising to Halwa, who has lived in the province his whole life and done all of his police work in Alberta.
“I’m well aware that the people of these towns and cities and remote locations have great admiration and support for the RCMP,” said Halwa. “So it was not news to me at all. Now, somebody that maybe wasn’t hasn’t been involved in policing in Alberta, or maybe somebody from another part of the country may find that surprising. But in Alberta, I don’t find that surprising.”
Over the course of the tour, Halwa has found that many of Albertan’s concerns lie with other parts of the criminal justice system, not just in policing.
“The main concern that we’ve heard and that from the people and I agree with is the revolving door of the criminal justice system. It is not not a surprise to anyone or it shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that the crown prosecutors are severely overworked, and they’re understaffed,” said Halwa. “There’s also, in some parts of the province, a shortage of courtroom space. What that does is that causes a delay in getting many matters to trial. And as a result, many of those matters that would in a better funded system would make its way through the court process are withdrawn or triaged out. And that’s concerning for people.”
Halwa adds that the number of courtrooms, crown prosecutors, and judges are also directly under the control of the province, and while more funding for policing is needed, it is not a “be-all end-all magic pill.”
Halwa also notes that currently, police work is not a widely desired career for young people, which raises concerns regarding where the recruits for the APPS would come from, even with one of the currently proposed models, which would result in fewer fully trained officers.
“When the minister released the report, back in November, the question was, where are you gonna get these police officers from,” said Halwa. “And at that time, he suggested that it was estimated that about 15% of the currently serving members would switch over to provincial police services. Now, I think that’s a liberal estimate, based on the numbers that we’ve seen in Surrey, during their transition, but even if that is accurate, that’s only 454 police officers. That leaves the province 2500 members short.”
Even if the estimate is accurate, points out Halwa, 85% of current officers would be moving to other parts of the country and taking the experience needed to be a good police officer or handle complicated issues with them.
Much of the model replicates what is currently in place with the RCMP, which has left the NPF and many Albertans wondering why this transition is being considered.
“If you read the report, when it gets to community policing and such, it says, well, we’ll just duplicate what’s already in place,” said Halwa. “Well, if we’re duplicating it, then why are we trying to change it? Even the report itself, when it says this number of members and these members, number of locations, and all that kind of stuff, is basically identical to what’s in place now? So if the plan is to replicate, how does that actually change anything or improve anything in the criminal justice system?”
While Halwa acknowledges the value in weighing the service that the province is getting from their policing and asks how it can be improved, he struggles to see the value in “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” and replacing the current system entirely instead of focusing on those improvements.
“I encourage people to, to get involved in educating themselves on the issues, and if they’re able to come attend one of our sessions,” said Halwa. “Also, they can go to our website, KeepAlbertaRCMP.ca, all that information is all there. And if they are concerned, I encourage them to reach out to their MLA and elected officials and more seconds, because there is a lot of money at stake that will be inevitably borne by the Alberta taxpayers.”