Op-Ed by Valda Behrens

In so many ways, Alberta feels like it’s at a crossroads. The intense focus on Premier’s Kenney’s leadership is generating lots of different reactions, not surprisingly.  We are nothing if not a passionate, fiercely independent province that likes to do things its own way.  

That may be why Premier Kenney believes that the establishment of a made-in-Alberta Provincial Police force, in lieu of the RCMP, would be a positive direction for our province.   He has also suggested it would be cheaper and better equipped in the long run.   

As a proud Albertan, I am definitely torn. My husband and I have worked hard to raise four kids who all went to college and university.  I now have five grandkids and counting!  As a middle class family, we have cared deeply about making every dollar count. 

At the same time, I got to know the value of the RCMP through my work as a Detachment Services Assistant and Supervisor in High River for over 15 years. Consequently,  I saw up close how my fellow Albertans employed by the RCMP are working incredibly hard -day in and day out – to advance public safety, oversee the prosecution of major crimes, and recruit and train staff.   These folks are deeply woven into the fabric of our communities, especially in rural and remote regions.  

I lived this first hand In 2016 when the now infamous wildfires which began southwest of Fort McMurray swept through the community, forcing the largest wildfire evacuation in Alberta’s history, with nearly 88,000 people forced from their homes.   RCMP Mounties and non-Uniformed staff rallied to assist emergency responders, help people evacuate and diminish the chances of looting. I was honoured to be part of that effort, leaving my school age kids and husband behind for over a week to support my fellow Albertans.  

It wasn’t the first time. When catastrophic floods struck my hometown in High River in 2013, I was again called to duty as a RCMP non-Uniformed employee.  After ensuring my own family made it to safety, I worked 24/7 alongside Uniformed personnel to coordinate rescue efforts and keep law and order.

Three thousand people had been ordered to evacuate, some of whom were reluctant to leave, worried sick about their homes and pets.  150 had to be rescued.  Remarkably, nearly 440 Canadian Forces personnel and RCMP officers came together from across the country, alongside hundreds of volunteers and police support staff, to oversee evacuation and rescue efforts. 

What I have learned from being on the front lines of both of these crises is how crucial it is to have a seasoned, versatile police force that can pivot quickly, and leverage additional expertise and staff when required.   In Alberta, there are 114 RCMP detachments in every corner of our province.  Many of these detachments have been in existence for many decades. 

While Calgary and Edmonton do have their own police forces, outside of these cities, overwhelmingly, it is the RCMP that responds to emergencies, lays charges for major crimes, including in highly sensitive areas such as sex trafficking, child pornography, and the illicit drug trade.   

Uniformed officers are backed up by hundreds of dedicated operational staff that keep Detachments going and do a lot of the heavy lifting of investigating and classifying evidence at regional hubs.  

In Premier Kenney’s plan for a provincial police force, there is little mention of how to retain and equip non-Uniformed employees who, in many respects, are the backbone of Alberta’s public safety network.  They have decades of experience in various aspects of criminal justice and public safety in this province.  

There is no guarantee that these folks would be retained by a provincial police force, and that all would want to go.  Many consider themselves part of the RCMP family.  The amount of expertise and knowledge that could get lost keeps me up at night.  

So does the challenge of recruiting a whole new force. In Surrey BC, which severed its ties with the RCMP in favour of a municipal police force, the transition has been less than smooth.  The competition for seasoned Uniformed officers who can mentor the next generation is intense.  Replacing thousands of RCMP Uniformed officers in Alberta is no small feat, and no one should be pretending otherwise.  

In my opinion, the expense and logistics associated with this rather complex transition are not likely to save Alberta money in the short or long term.  The real cost to communities served by the RCMP are likely far higher than any report could capture.  

Ultimately, I am a mother, wife and proud resident of High River.  My priority is the safety and well-being of my family, my community, and province.  I didn’t plan to work with the RCMP 15 years ago,  but got the chance to serve as a valued member of the operational backbone, and learned an immense amount about public safety in the process. 

I would urge my fellow Albertans to think carefully about the perils of a hasty decision that could severely jeopardize our province, not make it better.