page contents Vote Dylan Bressey, candidate for Grande Prairie City Council. Election 2017. page contents

Police Governance

At Tuesday’s Infrastructure and Protective Services Committee, I’ll be bringing up the oversight of our police. I would like Council to form a Policing Committee. You can click here to see the letter I’ve written to Council members.

Following, I explain what a Policing Committee is, and why I think the City of Grande Prairie should have one.


THE SHORT VERSION

While I have a great deal of faith in our local RCMP members, I think there is a gap in our community: we don’t have the full degree of civilian oversight which legislation allows us to have.

The Alberta Police Act is the main piece of legislation laying out how police interact with their local communities. It does not grant City Council any degree of oversight to our RCMP detachment. However, the Act does allow Council to establish a Policing Committee. If formed, this Committee would have legislated oversight of the RCMP. For example, it would have a say in who our Detachment Commander is, and it would work with that person to develop yearly plans and strategies.

Any community would be well served by having this type of police governance in place. However, I think there are new circumstances making a Policing Committee especially important right now:

  • Growing concerns about crime. As concern grows, residents are looking for more evidence that their priorities are reflected in our policing. A Policing Committee can ensure the RCMP are acting on local priorities. A Policing Committee is also well equipped to report back to the public on RCMP matters.

  • Unionization of the RCMP. RCMP members are unionizing, and this will likely raise their employment costs significantly. As taxpayers contribute more to policing, we need to ensure good value is being returned. A Policing Committee will provide the necessary oversight to ensure we are getting the best possible results from our RCMP contract.

  • Upcoming changes to municipal policing. It is very likely that the way the RCMP handles municipal policing will change dramatically in the next 5-10 years. As it does, we will need local civilians who are familiar with police governance to help our community navigate change. A Policing Committee will allow us to grow that capacity in Grande Prairie.


THE LONG VERSION


I believe that governance for our local policing could be dramatically improved. However, I also want to be clear about something: I have no concerns with our local RCMP members.

Police face many obstacles in their work to combat crime. Top among their obstacles: under-resourced mental health and court systems. Police often see crimes go without prosecution because courts are overloaded. Police also often encounter individuals who are more in need of mental health or addictions treatment than of intervention from the criminal justice system. Without proper supports from courts and from health care initiatives, police face huge challenges in their efforts to address crime.

In addition to these challenges, police also need to work within a complex framework of laws and regulations. These limit their authority and govern how they can go about their jobs. This often prohibits the RCMP from taking actions some residents would like them to take.

When I look at the resources and authority available to them: our local officers are doing a great job. I’m impressed every time I interact with them in my role as Councillor.

At the same time, I think there is a significant gap in local civilian oversight for the RCMP.

Something that often surprises people: Council has no legislated mechanism to oversee RCMP policing in our community. We have no formal say in the activities of our police force.

Council gets to set the total budget for the local detachment, so it does have some influence. However, Council doesn’t get to direct how that total budget will be allocated to specific initiatives. And the provincial Police Act does not establish any sort of relationship between Council and the RCMP. Council does not get any say in selecting the Detachment Commander, and the Detachment Commander has no legislated responsibility to report to Council nor to receive Council input when developing local priorities and strategies. Council also has no mechanism to followup on formal complaints from members of the public: those need to be handled by the province.

What the Police Act does allow: for Council to setup a Policing Committee. If a Policing Committee is established, the RCMP would have legislated responsibilities to it. For example, the Policing Committee would get a say in selecting new Detachment Commanders, and they would work with Detachment Commanders to create annual priorities and strategies. A Policing Committee would also establish a Public Complaint Director to investigate, report on, and help resolve complaints made by the public.


Why form a Policing Committee now?

After I got elected, I was very surprised to learn how little influence Council has over its contracted RCMP. I had no idea that legislation gives Councils no formal input into local policing. This has frustrated me: residents expect Council to have a lot more oversight over the RCMP than legislation allows.

Earlier this year, I represented the City at a series of provincial meetings held to review the Police Act. That led me to learn more about Policing Committees. As soon as I read about them in the Police Act, I knew I wanted to see one in Grande Prairie. It makes sense to me that we would benefit by having local civilians providing police oversight and representing the public and Council to the RCMP.

No matter what is happening in the community, forming a Policing Committee makes sense. However, there are three particular circumstances that make this particularly relevant now.


Community Concerns

Over the last couple of months, a new trend has developed in my conversations: I hear near daily concerns about crime in our community. Most people have at least a little concern, and some are very angry or scared.

As worry about crime increases, the current tools Councillors have available to effect policing are becoming more and more inadequate. Residents rightly expect there to be more feedback, accountability, and oversight given to our local RCMP. Residents also want to have more information about how the RCMP working in our community. A Policing Committee would allow us to increase the responsiveness and transparency of our contracted police.

Unionization and Rising Costs

The RCMP are already the City’s single biggest budget item: they account for ~17% of your property taxes. And their costs are about to go up.

After fighting and winning a years long legal challenge, RCMP members are in the final stages of unionizing. There is very compelling evidence that they are underpaid compared to many other police forces. Collective bargaining will almost certainly drive up salaries, benefits, or other costs. When that happens, municipalities that are policed by the RCMP will be greatly impacted.

This will especially impact residents of Alberta cities.

In Alberta, cities of over 5000 are responsible for paying for their police using property taxes, while the province is responsible for paying for police in other municipalities. What this means: city taxpayers pay property tax to fund their municipal RCMP, and they also pay provincial taxes to fund the RCMP in surrounding non-city municipalities. Meanwhile, those other municipalities don’t need to collect property taxes to pay for their own police.

As police costs rise, city residents will see an impact on both their municipal and provincial taxes. Non-city residents will only have their provincial taxes impacted. Under this current funding model, city residents will face a much greater impact from RCMP unionization costs than will residents of other municipalities.

As the City faces rising costs tied to its RCMP contract, it has a greater responsibility to ensure taxpayers are getting the best possible value for money put into policing. Having a Policing Committee will allow us to have the oversight necessary to demand that good value.

Future Changes to RCMP Municipal Policing

Surrey recently decided to step away from RCMP contract policing and form its own municipal force (click here for more info). Red Deer is currently undertaking a review to determine whether or not it wants to continue with RCMP policing (click here). And there are many other conversations across the country about whether or not the RCMP should be delivering police services to municipalities. This could lead to the RCMP taking a different approach to how it offers its contracted services.

Additionally, while municipalities with their own police forces often pay more for police than municipalities with RCMP contracts, there is also evidence that stand alone forces may deliver better results (click here for one media article about this). If unionization leads to RCMP members costing the same as municipal officers, it might make sense for Grande Prairie to form its own police force.

I’m convinced that our policing model will see significant change in the next 5-10 years. As change happens, Council and our community will need help navigating it. We will need local civilians who understand policing and have experience with police governance. A Policing Committee will allow us to grow that capacity in our community.


What is a Policing Committee, Anyways?

The composition and roles of Policing Committees are set out in Section 23 of the provincial Police Act.

The Act gives Policing Committees the following responsibilities:

  • oversee the administration of the [Municipal Policing] agreement made under section 22,

  • assist in selecting the officer in charge, (c) represent the interests of the council to the officer in charge,

  • in consultation with the officer in charge, develop a yearly plan of priorities and strategies for municipal policing,

  • issue instructions to the officer in charge respecting the implementation and operation of the yearly plan,

  • represent the interests and concerns of the public to the officer in charge,

  • assist the officer in charge in resolving complaints,

  • appoint a Public Complaint Director.

Some other notable rules the Act sets for Policing Committees:

  • Committees must be between 3 and 12 members

  • Councillors and city staff can be on a Committee, but they must be a minority: only 1 may be appointed to a Committee of 3 or 4 members, and only 2 to a Committee of 5+ members

  • Committees select their own chair and vice-chair. Councillors and City staff may not have these positions.

  • In most cases, Committee members receive 3 year terms

  • Committee members cannot be removed by Council without cause


I look forward to discussing this with my Council colleagues. I hope they are supportive of forming a Policing Committee.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear any thoughts or questions you might have.

Thanks for reading!

-Dylan