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City moving forward with transition to municipal police force

Grande Prairie city council has voted to move forward with transitioning to a municipal police force. The decision took place Tuesday at 12:30 a.m. to end a meeting that started at 3 p.m. Monday.

The motion passed by a vote of 8-1. Mayor Jackie Clayton said ahead of the vote that council did not take the decision lightly.

“It simply is finding the best policing model possible, for a community we care deeply about. We talked at length about the opportunities, about the support this council and previous councils have done to strengthen safety in our community.”

Councillor Chris Thiessen was the sole vote against the motion, telling council he would like more time for residents to get a better understanding of the vote, saying, “big decisions take time, and good decisions are never rushed.”

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Earlier in the meeting, councillor Dylan Bressey put forward a motion to postpone the vote by two weeks to give residents a chance gain a better understanding. That was defeated by a vote of 6 – 3 with councillors Chris Thiessen and Wade Pilat being the only others in support.

The city started the conversation about a potential municipal police force back in 2021 after the provincial government had begun to lay out its case for a Provincial Police Service, rather than the current RCMP model. Last September, council approved spending $250,000 on developing a third-party detailed transition and public consultation plan.

The city hired MNP in late 2022 to conduct public consultation, which included an online survey, two open houses, interviews with residents, and a focus group. Ahead of Monday’s debate and vote Grande Prairie City Manager Robert Nicolay said the municipal police service review “is the largest public consultation” he has ever seen in the community.

On February 21st, after looking at the results of the public consultation, the feedback from stakeholder meetings, and the information included in the transition plan, councillors at a special Council and Committee of the Whole meeting pushed for the discussion to be brought to Monday’s council meeting for final debate.

Moving to a municipal police force is estimated to cost around $19 million, with the province already committing $9.7 million over the next two years. Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis made the funding announcement in the city at the end of February, saying, “having a community-led and focused police service will ensure Grande Prairie is finding unique solutions that will better serve their region.” In a letter to city council Monday, Minister Ellis doubled down, confirming as long as the provincial government’s 2023 budget is approved, the city will receive $5.4 million during the 2023/2024 fiscal year, and $4.3 million during the 2024/2025 fiscal year.

At the end of February, Mayor Clayton told a vote in favour of moving to the municipal force triggers a five year transition plan, with the first step being to inform the RCMP of the decision to make the shift over the next half decade. The city will have to seek approval from the minister to not only make the shift in the policing model but also to form a municipal police service.

The next step would be creating and passing a bylaw allowing the city to create a police commission. The federal government will also need to be informed of their intention “as per the city’s current municipal police service agreement.” Council will also implement a police commission, which would hire a police chief.

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