Manitoba reeves want to shake up police operations in rural areas where crime is on the rise.
"Policing is, in some municipalities, the fastest-growing (part of) their budget," said Denys Volkov, head of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.
"We need to look for creative solutions."
Volkov spoke Wednesday on the sidelines of closed-door meetings with federal officials, who are reviewing contracts for RCMP policing in most of Manitoba.
The crime rate outside Winnipeg was 42 per cent higher than in the city in 2017, the last year Statistics Canada compared those jurisdictions.
Rural RCMP detachments are funded by the provincial and federal governments, and some municipalities pitch in. Under the "contract policing" model, the cash-strapped force has consolidated detachments. Some reeves argue that has driven up response times.
"We want to work collaboratively with the provincial government and community citizens, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep our communities safe," said Loren Schinkel, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Lac du Bonnet.
Schinkel’s community recently started its own Citizens On Patrol Program, which has 54 branches across Manitoba, often paid for by the province.
"I think everyone’s facing the issues with the influx of methamphetamines, and everybody knows property crimes are on the increase because of that," he said.
Schinkel, a former Winnipeg and RCMP police officer who used to co-ordinate the provincial government’s outreach to Aboriginal and municipal police forces, co-chairs a justice committee run by the association and the province. "We’re all facing the same issues, and there’s got to be a better way to deal with that, in a cost-effective way," he said about the meetings in Ottawa this week.
Volkov said rural crime is taking up the association’s agenda; the group normally focuses on topics such as economic development.
"Last November, crime was dominating the ministerial forum, I think for the first time ever," he said.
Volkov said Ottawa could consider beefing up federal enforcement efforts. Police have urged border guards to crack down on drug smuggling, since officials believe meth from Mexico is contributing to Winnipeg’s crime surge.
He also said the association has asked Ottawa to provide information on whether cannabis legalization has boosted policing costs for municipalities. The Pallister government has rebuffed reeves and mayors who want a share of the tax collected from marijuana, to deal with those costs.
Schinkel said part of this week’s discussions involved co-ordinating social services to respond to the issues that drive crime.
The RCMP has had a tough time finding recruits, who are paid less than city police officers and have little say about where they’re posted. The recent unionization of the force could add to municipalities’ costs, Volkov said.
Ottawa could strong-arm provinces into providing more money for RCMP by changing the funding formula, but Schinkel said the talks between Ottawa, Manitoba and municipalities have been positive.
In 2018, Prairie residents told the House public safety committee about hours-long response times, and city-based drug dealers preying on small communities. In Manitoba, efforts are still in the works to shift from 10-digit emergency numbers to 911. Many RCMP detachments are served by operators in Winnipeg, causing delays when residents report a crime near a landmarks instead of a street address.