Governments would do well to spend more time listening to front line workers rather than paid consultants, corporate executives and lobbyists.
That was the lesson taken away from attending the public forum in Red Deer hosted by the National Police Federation in support of keeping the RCMP in Alberta.
The two presenters were active RCMP officers with years of experience under their belt. Their combined wisdom was insightful.
Take recruitment for example. Policing is much more dangerous than it used to be. Dealing with volatile, unpredictable, freedom fighters holding hostages (Coutts residents and working truckers unable to get their loads through), is just one recent example of why policing is no longer an attractive occupation.
For decades now, both Calgary and Edmonton police forces have had trouble recruiting police officers and now count heavily on overseas recruitment. The City of Victoria, with the best weather in the country, has been unsuccessful in hiring 20 police officers and are now desperate enough to offer $20,000 signing bonuses.
The City of Red Deer conducted a cost/benefit analysis and determined it would be much more expensive to set up and operate a municipal police force than stay with the RCMP.
The City of Surrey, B.C., in its second year of transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force, have spent $80 million, even though the four-year transition was to cost $19 million. Their political leaders thought the majority of RCMP officers would just slip over to the new force. It didn’t happen.
When surveyed, it appears fewer than 15 per cent of current RCMP officers in Alberta would slide over to a provincial police force. RCMP officers, even with their new contract, get paid considerably less than police officers in Calgary and Edmonton. There is something greater than money that causes men and women to serve with the RCMP.
Recruitment of highly qualified officers to replace 85 per cent of our current RCMP contingent would be expensive, difficult and could lead to private security contracting–which today is a reality in the United States. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched for a UCP government with a fetish that all things private are better than public.
Training, trainers and training facilities are at a high premium. The UCP proposal is that the Edmonton and Calgary training facilities will be used to train provincial police officers. Had they checked first, they would have learned neither city has excess training capacity. Alas, could this be yet another attempted download of provincial costs on municipal governments.
So, how is recruitment currently done? It’s pretty simple. The Justice Minister in Alberta picks up the phone, calls RCMP headquarters in Ottawa and says, “we need 56 new RCMP officers”.
Under their contract, the RCMP have one year to fill that manpower request. The RCMP covers all recruiting, training, discipline costs, and throws in a bonus which covers 30 per cent of those RCMP officer’s salary and benefits in perpetuity.
Ottawa has no influence over policing in Alberta. The signed agreement between the two parties, the Provincial Policing Agreement, gives Alberta’s Justice Minister absolute authority to set all policing priorities in Alberta.
It was Justice Minister Madu who added crime reduction units in rural Alberta. He neither sought Ottawa’s permission, nor needed Ottawa’s permission. He just went to the Commanding RCMP officer in Edmonton and told him to make it happen.
So, it comes back to that one argument used by the UCP government—too much influence by Ottawa over Alberta’s policing.
That, my fellow Albertans, IS the Big Fat Lie.