A municipality in northwestern Alberta decided Tuesday to replace the RCMP with its own police force after city council voted almost unanimously in favour of the move.
Grande Prairie Mayor Jackie Clayton said council believes a municipal police service would better serve the city of about 67,000 people and “create a more locally responsive policing solution with local oversight, addressing local needs.”
“We look forward to working alongside the RCMP as the city … transitions to a municipal police service over the next five years,” Clayton said Tuesday.
All but one councillor in the city 460 kilometres northwest of Edmonton voted in favour of creating a municipal police service. Coun. Chris Thiessen opposed the motion, saying he wasn’t comfortable making a decision so quickly.
“I still had questions in regards to costs and community consultation,” said Thiessen. “I thought the two-week turnaround to educate the public to move to a municipal police service was just not enough time to have our community digest what that means.”
The council meeting started at 9 a.m. Monday, with the vote taking place shortly after midnight Tuesday.
The city said it must now seek the Alberta government’s approval to make the change, pass a bylaw to create a police commission and notify the federal government of its intention.
The city noted in a news release that Grande Prairie is the first Alberta community to transition from the RCMP to a municipal police service since 1956. It said it plans to recruit officers locally and train them in the community.
Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki, the commanding officer of the RCMP in Alberta, said Mounties will continue to police Grande Prairie during the transition and will work with the city, province and federal government on the plan.
“While we support the responsibility of municipal leaders to evaluate their community services and listen to what their citizens want and need, I and the members of the Grande Prairie RCMP Detachment are naturally disappointed in this decision,” Zablocki said in a statement Tuesday.
“We have been proud to live, work and serve in Grande Prairie.”
The Alberta government announced last month that it would give Grande Prairie $9.7 million over two years to help cover transitional costs if city council voted to establish a municipal police service.
Alberta Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said that he thinks Grande Prairie’s decision will empower other municipalities in the province to follow its lead.
“Grande Prairie did a thorough and independent study, and they came to the conclusion that this is the path that they want to do,” Ellis said. “I think all municipalities need to go and look and see what is going to work best for them.”
The total cost of the proposed police service is estimated to be $19 million.
Zablocki said throughout the process in Grande Prairie, he heard about the respect and appreciation communities around the province have for the RCMP.
“Their work is valued and appreciated. Going forward, we will continue to focus on maintaining our strong partnerships in the province and on serving Grande Prairie residents and the surrounding community.”
The National Police Federation, which is the bargaining agent for Mounties below the rank of inspector, said in a statement that it believes the decision is politically motivated and lacks consideration for overall transitional costs.
“This transition has been widely promoted and presented through rose-coloured glasses with little to no true consideration of overall transition costs, recruitment and retention, training, or technology and equipment,” said spokesperson Fabrice de Dongo.