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Ellis: Vacancy rates within Alberta’s RCMP are concerning

Posted on April 11, 2024 by admin

It doesn’t matter if you live in a remote community in rural Alberta or in downtown Edmonton – when you call 9-1-1, the expectation is that a police officer will arrive to help you. 

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.

And that is no slight to the hardworking men and women serving on the frontlines within the ranks of our municipal police services and the RCMP, to protect our communities across the province. 

The reality is, in these smaller communities, vacancy rates within Alberta’s RCMP detachments have been an ongoing concern. This it not an issue unique to Alberta – the RCMP have had staffing issues across the country. 

Data recently obtained by the National Post shows that as of February 2023, the service is suffering from significant officer vacancy rates in all eight provinces and three territories where it provides contract policing. It is our understanding that nationally the vacancy rate is about 17 per cent.

On average, Alberta has an RCMP officer vacancy rate of 20 per cent. This means that Alberta is only being served by 1,522 of the 1,911 RCMP officers that the federal government has authorized for Alberta.

Make no mistake, we are paying for these services that we aren’t receiving. Alberta’s taxpayers are paying tens of millions of dollars for nearly 400 vacant RCMP officer positions – for boots that are not on the ground. 

As a former police officer, I will always be a strong and unrelenting advocate for our police services and the supports they deserve. Under this UCP government, we have invested in the RCMP to ensure Albertans are safe and protected in their communities. If passed, Budget 2024 will provide an additional $20.9 million to communities covered by the Provincial Police Service Agreement to bolster the RCMP’s capacity to respond to crime. 

Despite this increase in funding, many of the vacant positions remain unfilled. Alberta’s government is committed to ensuring Albertans are safe, secure and protected in their communities, no matter which part of the province they live in. But with the current levels of crime across Alberta, the shortfall is creating an environment where criminal activity can thrive.

We know that the current RCMP members on the ground are doing everything they can. Our government is here to support them, and we are already taking action to help where we can.

That is why I recently tabled Bill 11, the Public Safety and Emergency Service Statutes Amendment Act 2024. If passed, Bill 11, will enable the creation of an independent police agency to help augment and support other police services in the province, including the RCMP.

Public safety and policing needs have evolved in the province. These changes would enable the new, independent police agency to be responsible for carrying out police-like functions that are already currently being performed by the Alberta Sheriffs. 

This includes functions such as fugitive apprehension, highway patrol and surveillance. These initiatives are aimed at supplementing the efforts of local police services by having sheriffs perform some specialized law enforcement functions.

With RCMP detachments facing high vacancy rates, Alberta’s government is looking to fill these gaps. If there’s a call for help and a fully-trained and qualified Alberta Sheriff is a few minutes away but an RCMP member is hours from being available – the decision is simple. I, and most Albertans quite frankly, don’t care what the uniform is. They just want help from a police officer. 

As the minister responsible for public safety, I remain committed to working with the federal government, the RCMP and local municipalities to address concerns about the future of contract policing. We need to work together to get this right. But I will also not sit idly by as our communities continue to reach out for help. 

We must look at all options on the table to address rising crime rates. Not doing so would be negligent on my part because having a police officer attend your 9-1-1 call should be a guarantee in Alberta. 

Mike Ellis, Deputy Premier and Minister of Public Safety and 

Emergency Services

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