Original Published on Sep 21, 2022 at 19:27
By Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The RCMP’s history goes back almost to when Canada was formed under Confederation. Created in 1873, the North West Mounted Police became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in 1920, the same year the force’s headquarters moved from Regina to Ottawa.
Things have changed over the last hundred years. To address modern policing needs, the RCMP announced Sept. 1 the launch of the Community Safety and Well-being Branch in the force’s Alberta K Division.
The branch is the first of its kind in all of Canada.
It is essentially an organizational restructuring that puts existing units — such as data analytics, Indigenous relations, crisis teams and crime-reduction units — under the same administrative umbrella.
Not only does the Community Safety Branch provide more resources on community engagement at no additional cost, but the organization also allows for the creation of new programs targeting specific community needs.
“It’s putting all these critical units together in one branch, allowing for a better stream of information and strategic planning and a lot more operability between everyone,” said Supt. Mike McCauley, who was appointed second-in-command over the branch.
“The majority of the work we do is absolutely proactive and interactive with communities.”
The Community Safety and Well-being Branch operates under four pillars: crime reduction, community outreach, analytics and intelligence, and social engagement.
Formed in consultation with provincial partners like the Alberta Crime Prevention Association and the Alberta Municipalities, the branch’s purpose is to help RCMP officers police according to local community needs and adjust to modern policing issues.
For example, the branch has units dedicated to attracting recruits from Indigenous communities and developing better relations with First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
One program McCauley is personally excited for is Home Phone for Good, which has the RCMP working with Telus to provide permanent landlines for homes in First Nations communities that don’t have permanent access to a telephone.
“It’s a fundamental right to be able to call for help, whether it’s for police or health services or an ambulance,” he says.
The branch is also expanding the RCMP’s rural police and crisis teams (RPACT) throughout all of southern Alberta, which partners police officers with licensed mental health therapists to respond to mental health calls. Under the RPACT program, officers and therapists responding to a call will have access to both police and health records.
“It adds another level of expertise,” McCauley says. “A uniformed police officer sometimes, despite his or her best intentions, can be challenging to open up to, especially when a person is in crisis.”
Another program the Community Safety and Well-being Branch facilitates is the virtual opioid dependency program, which partners with Alberta Health Services to provide treatment for arrested individuals who have an opioid addiction.
The goal, McCauley says, is to help reduce the sickness and cravings and help guide people toward rehabilitation.
“We certainly don’t apologize for doing the enforcement side of policing, but what we’re looking to move towards is a more holistic approach to policing,” he adds. “Before, drug addictions were seen only as a criminal problem, but now we see it as a health problem.”
Although the branch’s programs are not yet being implemented in southwestern Alberta, McCauley says the branch is working on expanding services to the entire province, and it is available for officers in Crowsnest Pass, Pincher Creek and Piikani Nation to call upon for information and support.
“It is reassuring to know that, should [say] a hate-based crime take place, local officers have this unit to provide timely assistance and expertise that will hopefully address the special needs of victims,” says Cpl. Mark Amatto of Crowsnest Pass RCMP.
The recorded announcement of the Community Safety and Well-being Branch is available to view online at bit.ly/RCMP_CommunitySafety.