Town council debates pros and cons of extra security options

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake’s town council spent quite some time at its June 4 meeting discussing the pros and cons and options for dealing with what’s perceived to be an upswing in crime in town.

The discussion and debate followed a presentation by a private security firm, one of three the town had reached out to for proposals. Apex Security of Grande Prairie can provide 24/7 security patrols, council heard, for a price of about $1 million per year.

Other proposals were more along the lines of what was termed ‘observe and report,’ as opposed to the more hands-on approach Apex uses.

A couple of themes emerged: one is that council is hearing, loud and clear, from residents that something must be done to improve public safety. Another is the natural reluctance to spend large amounts of unbudgeted money.

According to what Councillor Kim Hughes said, the problems are concentrated in the northwest and southwest parts of town, and have people very concerned.

“We have a responsibility to our citizens to make them feel safe,” she said, pushing for some kind of quick action on the matter.

Besides the three security firm proposals, council was advised by CAO (and former RCMP officer) Jeff Simpson of a fourth possibility. It involves budgeting for the RCMP to bring on extra officers, on a voluntary overtime basis, in times of special need.

It’s done regularly in Banff, he said, by way of example, on summer weekends when it gets very busy in that tourist town.

Of course there is always the option of simply budgeting for more full-time RCMP, Simpson reminded council. The cost there would be roughly $150,000 per officer.

Councillors went back and forth, around and around, examining various aspects of the problem and possible solutions.

Right off the bat, though, Councillor Steve Adams said he’s against the million bucks the Apex solution represents. That’s a 12 per cent tax increase right there, he said. And if we’re in favour of the ‘observe and report’ model (where security personnel merely drive around and if they see anything, call the police), “I prefer the drone idea,” he said. This was apparently something that had been previously discussed; how it would work was not explained, but presumably would involve a drone spying on public places and sending pictures of it to somebody.

Mayor Francesca Ward was also not in favour of shelling out a million for extra security at this point, but thought looking at one of the other, less-costly options was worth doing. She added it’s “encouraging” that a local chapter of Citizens on Patrol is starting up.

“I prefer hands-on,” said Councillor Brice Ferguson, and asked for the cost of adding the extra RCMP shifts.

How it would work, Simpson said, is the town comes up with a budget, informs the RCMP, and they put out the word internally for members willing to take on extra shifts. Because it’s overtime, it’s double the usual hourly wage, he said, amounting to around $100 per hour. It’s also voluntary, so there’s no guarantee the shifts would be filled.

Ward made it quite plain she’s not pleased with the job the RCMP have been doing, saying (again and again), she’s “not a fan of throwing more at a system than isn’t properly working.”

Adams said he’d favour the additional RCMP option, plus a drone keeping an eye on things.

One thing nobody talked about, interestingly, was the option of beefing up the town’s own peace officer program. It was cut in half a few months ago (from two officers to one) in a budget-cutting measure. Since then, it is generally understood (but as far as we know has not been publicly acknowledged) that the other peace officer is off on stress leave, leaving the town with no peace officer presence for several months running.

The only reference to municipal peace officers came from Councillor Adams, when he observed that budgeting for extra RCMP shifts might be better bang for the town’s buck “than hiring our own peace officers.”

All the debate, leading to no clear decision, was clearly frustrating for Councillor Hughes. She had been talking to residents about their safety worries, and it showed.

“We need to do something,” she said. “I don’t want to have to spend the money, but here we are.”

The quickest short-term option is the RCMP, said Adams. Let’s do that and then at budget time evaluate what we want to do, long-term (I.e. spend more).

“Right now RCMP overtime is our best answer.”

“I think we need costs on it,” said Ward.

Council ended up asking Simpson to find out more details about the RCMP extra shifts option, and bring a report to the next council meeting. Also scheduled at that meeting is a presentation by the new COP group. Based on what they learn from those two reports, council seemed to be ready to make a decision about spending some money right away on enhanced policing or security of some kind.

Ward made the motion to table the matter for a week.

“I’m sick of talking about this,” said Hughes, “and I hate to delay this another week, again, but here we are.”

Share this post

Post Comment