Opinion: Provincial police force isn’t the answer to organized crime or addictions in Alberta

Read this op-ed in the Edmonton Journal

Last week, Premier Danielle Smith announced in her mandate letters to cabinet members that she is likely forging ahead with the establishment of a provincial police force. During her leadership campaign, Smith endorsed her predecessor’s preoccupation with having a “made-in-Alberta” police force to respond to rural and urban crime.

In a city like Red Deer, which has been long served by a large RCMP detachment, this latest move hardly comes as good news. I was born and raised in Red Deer, and returned to raise a family here. I work in federal corrections, previously as a guard and, more recently, as a federal parole officer.

In this role, I have interacted with hundreds of federal offenders who are serving time for major crimes. Consequently, I’ve learned more than I ever expected about the justice system and policing agencies in this province. Albertans should certainly expect top-notch policing, no matter who is providing it. And when something goes wrong, the police need to be there to protect us.

Alberta’s police forces also need to be held accountable so that they provide a high level of service and keep our communities safe. From what I have seen, supplementing the role of the RCMP with a more localized provincial police force, or replacing the RCMP altogether, would not reap the benefits one might think in much of Alberta, urban or rural.

Having spent thousands of hours up close with federal offenders in an effort to break the cycle of crime, a very high percentage of inmates are contending with deeply entrenched substance abuse and addictions issues. Inside and outside of federal penitentiaries, gangs have a major role to play in fostering those addictions and the illicit drug trade in general, courtesy of sophisticated organized-crime groups who work across borders to fuel well-oiled distribution networks.

To have any chance of disrupting these networks, and addictions overall, we need specialized policing agencies that are national and international in scope, and have the resources and tools to stop them in their tracks. Highly localized policing is not the answer to this challenge, but rather more robust criminal investigations led by the RCMP and urban police agencies in Edmonton and Calgary and beyond.

The task force on provincial policing also talks about using multi-disciplinary teams specializing in mental health and addictions. This is totally achievable within the existing model of 114 RCMP detachments that are well-established and staffed by not just Mounties but mostly non-uniformed locals that know their communities and the people who reside in them very well.

At the end of the day, I echo the strong desire on the part of many Albertans to have more proactive policing. But a costly transition to a provincial force which can’t deliver the goods is not my version of fiscal prudence. As a Conservative, I see better ways to use my tax dollars and protect my family.

The reality is that no matter the force, policing is both very labour-intensive and increasingly relies on sophisticated technology and equipment. RCMP detachments in rural, remote and even urban areas would, no doubt, benefit from having more boots on the ground and partnerships with community agencies to equip them for today’s realities.

Overwhelmingly, the RCMP in Alberta is staffed by Albertans, which includes the hundreds of non-uniformed RCMP employees who support the operational backbone of the force, including high-stakes investigations into child exploitation, fraud, gang violence, and related crimes. This includes right here in the Red Deer detachment.

It’s crucial that our elected leaders have a candid conversation, not play politics, with Albertans about how to strengthen the police forces we already have, including the RCMP, which has had a major foothold in Alberta for over 100 years.

Zef Ordman is a regional vice-president with the Union of Safety and Justice Employees (USJE) representing hundreds of federal correctional employees (including parole and programs) working in federal prisons in Alberta. He was a federal parole officer and correctional guard for a number of years.