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Not having an RCMP detachment base in rural area a challenge, Sexsmith mayor says


October 15, 2020
By The Canadian Press

With Sexsmith required to contribute $50,000 for RCMP services under the Alberta government’s new funding model, council is weighing in on the challenges faced by the community regarding policing.

Sexsmith, Clairmont and the surrounding area are covered by Grande Prairie Rural RCMP, which reports to Grande Prairie RCMP and is based in the city.

Mayor Kate Potter said it is a concern Grande Prairie Rural doesn’t have a base outside of the city and she hopes to see more of an RCMP presence in town.

“We don’t have a problem with helping contribute to policing, but there better be policing that goes with that,” Potter said.

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“We better see some results and some members in our community.”

Before this year’s change to the funding model, only municipalities with populations above 5,000 contributed funding to the RCMP.

Following the change, Potter said the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association and Rural Municipalities of Alberta formed a police advisory board for municipalities to have a voice.

The advisory board sent out surveys to municipalities across Alberta so the communities can provide feedback on policing services, she said.

Drug offences, property crimes among top concerns

During last week’s regular meeting, Rachel Wueschner, Sexsmith chief administrative officer, went over the police advisory survey with council and councillors provided the answers.

Council identified four issues its members were most concerned about: Drug offences, major property crime, family violence and prolific offenders.

Potter said she considers Sexsmith’s crime rate low, but these issues are ones councillors hear the most about from residents.

She added a challenge presented by crime statistics is that some offences, such as those property-related, are underreported by people who feel there is insufficient police response.

Some councillors told Wueschner last week they are dissatisfied with the number of visits from the detachment commander to council chambers.

Potter said council received an update from the commander once per year, and twice would be better – once for council to give feedback and once to go over crime statistics.

Council had a positive relationship with the past staff sergeant, Neal Fraser, she said.

This year Fraser was succeeded by Cpl. Steve Oster, who is now acting detachment commander.

Amid the pandemic. council hasn’t yet seen Oster, Potter said.

Additionally, Sexsmith residents share their concerns with council about a lack of a detachment in town on a regular basis, she said.

“I would love to see the rural detachment not be in the City of Grande Prairie,” Potter said.

“This is another issue that affects service.”

Grande Prairie Rural coverage area’s is very large, lengthening response times as officers travel from the city, she said.

Aside from Sexsmith and Clairmont, the detachment’s area stretches into Greenview and the eastern side of the County of Grande Prairie.

She said if the detachment was moved to Clairmont or another hamlet rather than Sexsmith, this would be an improvement over the city.

Another concern is that Grande Prairie Rural has historically been short of two to three members at any given time, Potter said.

Cpl. Deanna Fontaine of the Western Alberta District RCMP said Grande Prairie Rural has 27 positions; three are yet to be filled.

According to RCMP, where a detachment is located is a complicated matter and municipalities can be part of the process in lease agreements.

Council isn’t aware of how many hours of policing it will receive under the new funding model and would like that information, Potter said.

Potter hopes for change

The fairness of the town paying more for policing depends on whether council’s feedback in the survey makes a difference, Potter told the News.

“Right now, we’ve seen very little change,” she said.

However, she noted COVID disrupted many people’s plans for 2020, so she recognizes Grande Prairie Rural had difficulties recruiting more members. This may explain why service hasn’t improved, she said.

“While we have been told we will see an increase in staffing in the Grande Prairie Rural Detachment, no one really knows what that will look like,” she said.

“For Sexsmith, having no detachment in town and very little RCMP coverage, we are hopeful and optimistic we will see a change.

“Until that happens, we will try to hold the province accountable to ensure that money is going to where we wanted it to go.”

Brad Quarin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Town & Country News

The Canadian Press Enterprises Inc., 2020