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Rural Albertans reject idea of provincial police force: poll

(Supplied/RCMP) (Supplied/RCMP)
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A new poll suggests rural Albertans aren't that into the idea of a provincial police force after all.

The online survey, delivered by Leger and sponsored by the University of Lethbridge and the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), showed 54 per cent of respondents disagreed with the idea of Alberta having its own police force, while 23 per cent said it should.

More than half the respondents reported a high level of trust in the RCMP and agreed police funding should be maintained.

The majority said they agreed or strongly agreed that police are doing a good or excellent job.

“At the end of the day, our priority is safe rural communities,” said RMA president Paul McLauchlin, in a release. “The RMA and its members support the work of the RCMP to address rural crime and don’t see any need for a fundamental change to how policing is delivered. The results of this survey show that individual rural Albertans share a similar view.”

The poll was created as part of a collaboration between the RMA, University of Lethbridge political scientist Dr. Lars Hallstrom and Mount Royal University economics, justice and policy studies professor Dr. Tanya Trussler.

It asked respondents their views about policing, crime and criminal justice. 1,470 people completed the survey, which was designed to oversample rural residents.

“The conclusions of this survey for rural Albertans are quite clear,” said Hallstrom. “Similar to the results of other recent polling, there is limited support for the removal of the existing police structure and replacing it with a provincial police force. Although there is some variation, depending on where people live in the province, the emphasis is really upon maintain and improve, not replace.”

Three-quarters of rural Albertans who responded indicated they feel safe in their community, although more than half also felt crime in their communities has risen.

Hallstrom said the results matched national statistics.

JUSTICE SYSTEM FAIL

While respondents answered positively about policing, they were overwhelmingly negative about the justice system.

Close to 79 per cent agree or strongly agreed  the court system is not hard enough on criminals. Close to three-quarters of respondents agreed criminal courts are too lenient.

The results, McLauchlin said, suggest tax money would be better spent on strengthening justice outcomes rather than launching a costly police force that would replace the RCMP.

“Our focus is on improving policing, improving social services and improving the justice system to ensure that rural communities are safe and supported. This is a key target and manageable without the development of an Alberta provincial police service,” said McLauchlin. “At this point we’d like to see the province re-direct the time, energy and money spent on pushing a provincial police service towards further enhancing social supports and the justice system.”

Those comments were echoed by Hallstrom.

"There is really very little support for discarding what is already in place," Hallstrom added. "When we factor in the well-documented costs associated with that approach, it’s pretty clear where public opinion lands."

NDP RESPONDS

Friday, NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir offered the following statement.

"This poll confirms what we’ve been hearing from Albertans across the province: they want to keep the RCMP. Yet, Danielle Smith and the UCP continue to ignore Albertans and push ahead with a new police force.

"According to the UCP’s own report, scrapping the RCMP will cost Albertans hundreds of millions of dollars and it will do nothing to reduce crime or improve safety in our communities.

"This is another example of how Danielle Smith is focused on risky and extreme ideas, not on what matters to Albertans.

"An Alberta NDP government will keep the RCMP and improve services so Albertans can feel safe in their community."

CTV News has reached out to the premier's office for UCP reaction to the poll and will update this story as they respond.

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