Let officers focus on policing

A couple of weeks ago, the Alberta government reopened the discussion regarding a provincial police force with the introduction of Bill 11.

After maintaining radio silence on the topic for much of the past year, it has now taken a first concrete step toward reforming policing in the province. This is something the United Conservative Party government has been eyeing since 2020.

Bill 11 paves the way for the creation of an independent policing agency in the province to work alongside local police, which will allow for more local action and better meet the needs of communities.

Another way to better respond to communities’ needs is by having officers spend more of their time on the tasks that matter to the public and to officers themselves: active policing.

Instead, officers today are practically drowning in administrative work.

When police respond to a call, a mountain of paperwork must be filed. Sometimes, several reports are needed for a single event. Some 40 per cent of officers’ time is spent on administration.

What this means is that close to half of the average shift is spent writing reports and completing other paperwork. This translates to more than six million hours per year across the province spent on tasks other than protecting the public and preventing crime.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that officers report being overwhelmed with this paperwork burden.

That’s not all. There are also a whole slew of non-core police tasks — such as fingerprinting, escorts or dispatching — that can consume substantial amounts of police time. These tasks do not require full police training or powers of arrest.

There’s an easy solution: subcontracting these tasks to licensed security personnel. The new independent agency in Alberta could build this in from the beginning.

Simply put, there is no need for highly trained police officers to spend more than half their time on tasks that do not utilize their skills. In fact, many officers are disillusioned by these demands on their time and the “mission creep” that has increased their responsibilities in non-criminal areas.

And job satisfaction is very important to officers’ performance. When they are able to focus on their core tasks and fight crime, studies show it can boost officer morale, increase job satisfaction and result in higher quality performance.

With this new agency, the province has a unique opportunity to reform the current policing model so officers can focus on the tasks that require their expertise.

Security personnel have limited powers of arrest but offer services that lend themselves well to bolstering police forces in several operational areas, such as administration and services that require only limited police powers.

By handing those tasks to licensed security personnel, police officers could spend more time on the things that matter to communities: public safety, crime prevention and community engagement.

Critics are quick to point out that in the announcement of Bill 11 there was no mention of associated timelines or costs, nor was this a part of the budget released just weeks before.

It’s dif­ficult to know what the creation of this new agency will entail in the absence of cost data. However, a 2021 study produced by the Montreal Economic Institute found that by having licensed security personnel provide administrative relief, Alberta could save between $162 million and $216 million each year. This is almost a quarter of public security operating expenses for 2024-25.

Without a doubt, if licensed security personnel were a part of this new agency, Albertans would see significant savings.

The UCP government in Alberta hasn’t shied from shaking things up so far, and it shouldn’t start now.

When this new policing agency is up and running, it needs to be staffed responsibly and in a way that makes sense not only for the public purse, but also for the communities served and for the officers themselves.

Krystle Wittevrongel is a Senior Policy Analyst and Alberta Project Lead at the MEI. The views reflected in this opinion piece are her own.

Back to top