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New Fraser Institute Study Examines the Options for Policing in Alberta

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Release Date: November 10, 2003

A new paper Policing Alberta: An Analysis of the Alternatives to the Federal Provision of Police Services, released today by The Fraser Institute, recommends that the province undertake a thorough review of the costs and benefits of restoring a provincial police force in Alberta.

As part of an on-going public debate over the restoration of provincial police forces, the authors outline several options for police services, particularly outside of Calgary and Edmonton. Among the alternatives to be considered, the province can:

  • Maintain the status quo whereby the federal police (the RCMP) continue to provide police services for the province.
  • Replace the federal police in all capacities with a provincially administered force.
  • Replace the federal police in communities with a population greater than 15,000 with a provincially administered force.
  • Replace some, or all, federal police detachments in rural areas with several regional forces based in larger population centers.

Barry Cooper, co-author of the paper and director of the Institute's Alberta Policy Research Centre, lays out the historical context of policing in Alberta and points out that the province reluctantly dissolved its own police force in 1932 (established after the withdrawal of federal services in 1917) to be replaced by a federal force.

"The federal government promised to deliver more for less. Whether the federal police delivered on that promise remains to be seen," says Cooper. "What they unquestionably gained was something approaching a provincial policing monopoly - except, of course, in Ontario and Quebec which retain their own police services to this day."

The existing arrangements regarding federal involvement in policing in Alberta appear to be financially advantageous because federal taxpayers pay a share of the costs of such policing (30 percent for communities with populations less than 15,000 and 10 percent for communities greater than 15,000).

However, the authors point out that the cost of federal provision of police services in the province is more a function of the population of the communities policed and associated criminal activities than it is of the frugality of the RCMP. Moreover, a comparison with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) clearly indicates that a provincially administered police force delivers services at a lower cost than the federal police.

Cooper also points out that federal policing deprives Albertans of input into and control over policing in the province. In addition, the federal police appear less capable than municipal departments in Alberta of maintaining current levels of spending, such as in the area of officer salaries.

Replacing the federal police with a provincial police force

The provincial government has two major options. First, it could recruit and train its own police force and simply replace the federal police with this new force while maintaining the current police act. This alternative would have two initial effects: a revived Alberta Provincial Police force would patrol rural areas with populations under 2,500; and municipal governments that wish to do so could contract with the provincial (rather than the federal) government for policing services.

"This alternative would maximize the influence of Albertans on policing practices in the province. At the same time, it would extinguish the federal provision of policing in the province," says Cooper.

If the provincial government were not prepared to remove the RCMP completely, a preliminary step would be to allow communities with populations above 15,000 to contract with a new provincial force rather than with the federal police. Regional police forces would amalgamate urban departments and surrounding rural areas and small towns.

The result would be a net decline in the federal provision of police services and a net increase in provincial provision of these services. A further benefit would be to provide direct access to smaller communities of the more sophisticated crime units available in urban centers. It would also reduce costs by lowering administrative overhead and duplication.

Cooper also points out that a reduced federal police presence in all the provinces would enable the RCMP to focus more on genuine federal issues: organized crime, internal security, interdiction of illegal immigrants, as well as on major crimes that occur inter-provincially.

In addition to undertaking an extensive and detailed analysis of specific federal police operations around the province, the paper recommends that the province consider additional issues including the role and deployment of special, auxiliary, or deputy constables, and the use of private security firms, particularly where protection of property is concerned.

"Just as with the original presence of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, the departure of the federal police in 1917, and their subsequent return, any move to replace the existing federal police with a new provincial force in Alberta or anywhere else in the country will involve a complex mixture of political will and economic analysis of costs and benefits," Cooper states.