“Particularly because our policing and enforcement costs are so high,” she explains. “It’s created an inequity in our region, so we fully support in-principle the government’s approach in terms of all municipalities in Alberta having to help cover the costs of policing.”
Veer says the province’s plan also highlights the need for both the new Red Deer Justice Centre and more Crown prosecutors.
“Even though substantial charges are often brought before the Crown prosecutor, because of lack of capacity with Crown prosecutors, in many instances, those charges are triaged out of the court system,” she exclaims. “We know that Red Deer needs investment in Crown prosecutors in an urgent sense right now, but particularly to build-up for when the Justice Centre opens in a couple of years. Our council has spoken personally with the Minister of Justice and emphasized that with him, although we have not received a formal response yet to our request.”
Red Deer County mayor Jim Wood says the move is a good first step towards addressing the issue of growing rural crime rates in Alberta, but admits having small and rural communities start footing some of the bill going forward is cause for concern.
“We’ve already started our budget process,” says Wood. “It looks like they’re going to be asking us to pay for something in this upcoming year, so I felt that’s a little late. But I guess the other concern (going) forward is just the ability to pay.”
Wood says it’s important to keep in mind during these tough economic times that there’s only one taxpayer.
“Whether they’re paying taxes to the province or the federal government, or to our municipality, there’s only so many tax dollars that our residents can afford,” he explained. “It’s going to be nice to have some more police officers in rural Alberta, but they have to be paid for somehow, and that is not the only solution. I’m hoping that those that are caught are in fact sentenced appropriately so that we don’t see them have a revolving door on our streets. I think that’s another problem that we have.”
Lacombe County councillor Ken Wigmore is president of the Red Deer/Lacombe Rural Community Crime Watch. He agrees with Wood that it’s good to have more officers on the way, but agrees that the funding formula may be cause for concern for many smaller communities.
“What do we get out of that?” asks Wigmore. “We get to pay, but does that mean we’re going to see more people out in the country, more presence of the RCMP in the county? It’s a big area you’ve got to cover, so if we’re paying, we’d like to have a little bit of control of where these guys are working or what they’re doing.”
Wigmore does feel the RCMP is doing a tremendous job and the best they can under the current circumstances.
“Just to arrest (criminals) to get out again is, in my mind, a little redundant. I think we really have to figure out a way of how we’re going to get these people out of criminal activity.”
Wigmore says adding more officers is only part of the solution to a much larger and complex issue.
“Downloading the cost of RCMP to the rural municipalities, I really hope that we get the service that we’re looking for.”