by Colin Smith
A police commission is not in the cards for Morinville, but the town council continues to look at ways to enhance public engagement with local law enforcement.
A report on the possibility of establishing a police commission or other types of formal liaison between the community and the police service was presented to council at its regular meeting Tuesday, Nov. 28.
At the same meeting, Acting Staff Sergeant Lew Simms, commander of the Morinville RCMP detachment, presented its quarterly report, including crime statistics.
The police commission report came out of a motion passed by council August 22 that directed administration to conduct a study focusing on the political intricacies and financial implications that would arise from creation of such a body for Morinville.
At that time mover Mayor Simon Boersma stated that a police commission complements law enforcement and could provide oversight and transparency, enable long-term planning and increase community involvement.
However, as pointed out in the report by Sharleen Edwards, General Manager of Community and Infrastructure Services, Morinville is not actually eligible to form a police commission.
Under the Alberta Police Act, police commissions are mandated to provide oversight of municipal police forces such as those in Edmonton and Calgary.
Municipalities that have other policing arrangements, notably contracts with the RCMP, can establish policing committees or RCMP advisory committees.
The role of a policing committee is similar to that of a police commission within the bounds of the Municipal Police Service Agreement, representing the interests of council to the officer in charge.
Committee oversight over RCMP detachments that provide policing service under the federal/provincial contract is limited because of federal legislation and policies.
RCMP advisory committees are formed by the officer in charge of an RCMP detachment to provide advice to the officer on policing concerns and policies and serve as an information source for the community. They do not have official status.
Following the presentation, Councillor Ray White raised the question of what council would be attempting to accomplish by establishing a formal body to provide liaison with the Morinville RCMP detachment.
White pointed to the quarterly report presented earlier by Simms, in which he indicated that crime had gone down.
In the report, Simms also said there had been three successful “Coffee With A Cop” sessions, in which area residents had an opportunity to meet and have discussions with him. One of those was in Morinville, the first to be held in the town itself.
Edwards said another Coffee With A Cop session is to be held in Morinville in February, and a Pop With A Cop session for youth is also coming up.
Councillor Scott Richardson put forward the idea that the information from the RCMP quarterly reports be made available to participants in the community sessions.
“There is a perception that crime is up,” Richardson said. “When we see the report it is actually down. Having that would relate back to the community and cut fear-mongering on social media.”
He said some meetings should be structured to give a sense of direction.
White expressed his concern about not having a sense of what costs might be in setting up a formal police-community liaison body.
“I’m very comfortable putting this aside for a little bit,” said Councillor Maurice St. Denis. “I’d like to know what kind of turnout we get and feedback.”
At the end of the discussion, council passed motions directing administration to come back in May with report providing information on options for a formal committee, to report on engagement opportunities with the RCMP and community.
In the Morinville detachment quarterly report for July 1 to September 30, Simms stated that overall offences dealt with were down some 15% compared to the same period last year. Total criminal code offences were down by 31% from 245 in 2022 to 170 this year.
Municipal statistics show persons crimes were down 47% to 33 and property crimes at 95 compared to 98 last year, a drop of 3%. There were 42 other Criminal Code offences, including offensive weapons, disturbing the peace, and failing to comply and breaches.
Bucking the trend, crimes that increased in this period this year include sexual assaults, from two to six, break and enter, from 10 to 13, and theft under $5,000, from 19 to 22.