Mike Ellis, Alberta’s minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services, held a virtual roundtable discussion Tuesday regarding the provincial government’s efforts to tackle rural crime.
The Sheriff Highway Patrol has been able to investigate impaired driving and other criminal offences since 2021.
“By having more officers able to detect impaired drivers, they can get them off the roads and improve public safety,” stated Ellis in his opening remarks.
In 2022, he said, Sheriffs removed 1,471 impaired drivers from provincial highways and wrote 66,326 tickets related to speeding, distracted driving, commercial vehicle safety and other traffic regulations.
Impaired driving investigations can take hours to complete and removes the patrol vehicle from the road. Expanding the authority of the Sheriffs has enabled the RCMP to keep more patrol units available to respond to urgent calls and other offences, the minister suggested.
Prior to the discussion, Ellis said in an email to the News, “The added responsibilities don’t have a significant impact on the Sheriff Highway Patrol’s day-to-day operations: these are officers who are already out on the roads and it makes sense for them to follow through when they have reasonable grounds to believe a driver is impaired, rather than hand things over to another agency.”
Relating to the establishment of an Alberta Police Service, Ellis said, “No decision has been made to establish an Alberta Police Service. However, the work our government is doing can help ensure Alberta is ready to make a transition on its own terms if the federal government ends RCMP contract policing or reduces subsidies to provinces and territories when the current policing agreements expire in 2032.”
What the government is currently trying to do is supplement the calls to service, explained Ellis at the roundtable. Previously, if a sheriff suspected an impaired driver, they would put a call out to the RCMP, which is time consuming and removes the RCMP from other duties.
One concern is how the government would be able to staff an Alberta Police Force when the RCMP are struggling to get enough officers on the ground. Speaking from the perspective of sheriffs, Ellis said they are managing to meet their recruiting challenges and have been able to fill their classes.
“Some agencies, when there is low morale or people not wanting to be police officers, you don’t get people applying, you struggle to fill classes,” said Ellis. “I would say right now, it’s looking very positive here in Alberta. Regardless of any theoretical Alberta Police Service, I would just say the government is up to meeting those challenges.”
When asked if the sheriffs are planning to increase the number of officers on the road, Ellis was unable to say.
“It is a very timely question. One thing I am passionate about is ensuring there is good service to the people of Alberta. Making sure when somebody is in need of help or calls 911 that there is an effective and efficient response time to ensure the needs of those folks, especially in rural Alberta, are being met.”
Ellis, a former law enforcement officer, stated multiple times the RCMP do outstanding work. He went on to say the general public appreciates the police and the work they do, and that’s why there is such devotion to the RCMP.
“I know some of them, they do fantastic work. It’s not about them. It’s about ensuring that when 911 is called, when people need help, that the police are there no matter who they are, or what uniform they are wearing. That they are there to support them. It’s not only that communities have their back, but that governments have their back and that’s why I’m so passionate about this.”
By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Original Published on Jan 25, 2023 at 14:21