BANFF – Banff’s police force looks set to get two additional RCMP officers to help with mounting pressures and high workload.
On Wednesday (Jan. 19), the governance and finance committee voted 4-3 to recommend that council fund two additional RCMP positions starting mid-year in 2022 by increasing RCMP contracted service by $125,0000 in 2022, $255,000 in 2023 and $260,100 in 2024.
Councillor Ted Christensen, who sits on the community’s police advisory group, has been pushing for this for quite some time, noting the call for more police has been brought up at service review for the past couple of years.
“If we have a need in our community, I think we need to address it and I think we need to address it as soon as we can,” he said.
“This will allow us to fulfill our need for boots on the ground. This is an immediate concern.”
Policing services in Banff are provided by 14 RCMP members under a municipal police service contract with the Town of Banff. By comparison, the Town of Canmore has 19 municipally funded police positions.
Adding two more positions would bring Banff to 16 approved full-time equivalent positions. The decision is not final until council deliberates and finalizes the 2022-24 operating budget, expected to get underway next week following the conclusion of service review this week.
In addition, the Banff townsite also has four RCMP positions funded by the province of Alberta, including three front-line investigators and one front-line supervisor.
Staff Sergeant Mike Buxton-Carr, the detachment commander for Banff RCMP, said Banff is well served and funded by the province of Alberta.
“The municipality is where we have the pressures,” he said.
The staff sergeant said neighbouring Canmore is quite a comparable community, and although Canmore has a larger residential population, many of the pressures both communities face are the same such as disproportional visitor populations.
He said the crime statistics and caseloads are fairly similar. He added Canmore has a slightly higher property crime rate, while Banff’s crime severity might be a little higher and Banff has to deal with more issues due to active nightlife, particularly downtown.
“The difference is we have 14 municipal resources and they have 19 – an extra 35 per cent is considerable,” said Staff Sgt Buxton-Carr.
“It allows you to address all your pressures, provide more safety to your officers, more safety for your community and actually engage the expectations of the community and expectations set by council for proactive work, crime reduction, visibility and engagement with the community.”
Every year, council sets out priorities for the Banff RCMP during service review. For example, crime reduction and traffic safety enforcement as well as dealing with criminal events due to late night activities continue to be ongoing.
With Banff’s RCMP detachment continuing to be stretched without a full complement of police, it has been difficult to meet the municipality's fine revenue projections set by the Town of Banff for road and traffic safety.
The Town of Banff’s operating budget for police services projects approximately $300,000 in fine revenue in both 2022 and 2023 and $342,000 by 2024. The municipality’s amended 2021 budget had forecast $300,000 in fine revenue; however, it was about $53,000 by the end of the third quarter.
Silvio Adamo, the director of protective services for the Town of Banff, said the Banff detachment seldom runs at full capacity because of transfers or absences due to leave, illness or injury, adding it has only been at full capacity once in the past four years.
“Typical years we don’t have a full 14 FTE working all the time… and because of that historic information, we actually budget for 13 members,” he said.
“We just received our latest quarterly requisition from K Division and the per officer rate with the new rates included is now $165,000 per officer.”
Councillor Christensen, Barb Pelham, Kaylee Ram and Hugh Pettigrew voted in favour of recommending council fund the two new positions, while Mayor Corrie DiManno and councillors Chip Olver and Grant Canning were in opposition because they wanted more detailed information.
“If we should be resourced with additional RCMP officers, then I want to take action that way, but first I want to understand the situation,” said Coun. Olver.
“For me, that would be very helpful to have a written report to see the history, to see the business case for this, to look at the data set, rather than just verbal presentations we are having today.”
Town Manager Kelly Gibson said Banff’s incorporation agreement acknowledges additional provincial funding for the RCMP based on the tourism nature of the municipality and visitor population.
When some of the funding was taken away, he said the reason that was given was that crime statistics and crime severity did not warrant the amount of extra funding.
“We have been debating that with the province and K division pretty much ever since then,” said Gibson, adding there was a meeting with the deputy minister at the last Alberta Municipalities’ conference.
Coun. Christensen said he no longer wants to squabble over funding jurisdiction in the lengthy ongoing debate.
“It’s just beyond me a little bit here to see that there is a need, to see that there is a comparison with a jurisdiction that has equal needs but more staff members, to hear about the long-term debates between the provincial government and our municipality regarding funding,” he said.
“The heightened concern is here. We’re going to be having many more visitors come, we are going to have new considerations for enforcement…my concern again taking a higher vision, is we’re going to get into a critical situation.”