By Don Norman
At the RM of Alexander’s regular council meeting on November 17, Councillor Ken Danwich, concerned with the high cost and limited service provided by the RM of Alexander’s contract with Prairie Bylaw Enforcement (PBE), brought up the idea of the RM starting their own police force.
Currently, the RM’s contract with Prairie Bylaw Enforcement, which is up for renewal, includes reduced service from September 2 to May 12 with an increased presence during cottage season. The service comprises 2,528 hours total for the contract. But because it’s become clear that the demand for service is growing and there are higher expectations from residents for increased officer presence, a 16% increase in service hours (to a total of 2,944 hours) was proposed. These additional hours would be directed specifically to the East Beaches of the municipality mainly on evenings and weekends. These new proposals would result in an rise in costs from $161,040 to $192,640.
The RM of Lac du Bonnet was approached regarding the possibility of a joint service agreement whereby the Bird River weekend patrols might be performed by Lac du Bonnet officers. But the municipality was not interested at this time.
Danwich provided council with a breakdown of costs for his proposed police service. It included a couple of different scenarios for and the expenses ranged from $105,000 to $130,000 per year – considerably lower than $193,000 for the proposed service from PBE.
Some of the advantages of an in-house police force would be potential for 24 hour coverage when necessary, immediate response by telephone 24/7 and expanded jurisdiction (could issue traffic tickets and even police the waterways which PBE is not able to do).
Council was generally supportive of the idea of an in-house police force. However, they had some concerns with jumping in too quickly without allowing time to fully research the idea. Deputy Mayor, Mac Kinghorn also questioned some of Councillor Danwich’s numbers, specifically regarding his allocation of a salary of $52,000 for a police chief, arguing it may not be enough to attract a high quality candidate.
Ultimately council decided the best course would be to spend some time researching the topic, canvassing other municipalities with their own police forces and to put a pin in the idea for the time being. However, council did vote to extend PBE’s contract for only one year, rather than the proposed two year extension. Councillor Danwich, who had hoped to avoid renewing the contract with PBE to focus on developing a municipal police force, called for a recorded vote on the contract extension, and voted against the extension, but the resolution to offer the one year contract to PBE passed four to one.