ST. PAUL, ALBERTA — The Alberta Sheriffs Branch will have expanded powers and play a bigger role in combating rural crime with new funding, the provincial government said Friday.
Public Safety Minister Mike Ellis said $27.3 million will go to new positions and for rural crime initiatives, including two plain clothes teams that will help RCMP with criminal surveillance.
The announcement comes as Alberta continues to mull over whether to create a provincial police service to replace the RCMP.
"There has been some misleading commentary about this investment in the Alberta sheriffs, namely that it's the way of laying the groundwork for establishing a provincial police service by some other means," Ellis said Friday in St. Paul, Alta., 200 kilometres northeast of Edmonton.
"I'd like to remind people that the provincial government hasn't made any decision about an Alberta police service."
Ellis said although the RCMP has its own surveillance teams, most of the efforts are focused on major investigations. He said the new sheriff teams will fill a gap by helping the RCMP detachments with local investigations.
"I've heard countless stories about home invasions being committed by prolific offenders or thefts from farms. Every property owner has the right to feel safe in their home and the right not to wake up and find their equipment gone or fuel siphoned from vehicles," he said.
"These really are the type of cases that keep Albertans up at night."
The sheriffs will also get funding to add 20 investigators to the Safer Communities and Neighbourhood unit, which uses civil enforcement to target problem properties where illegal activities take place.
There is also money for the Sheriff Highway Patrol to train and equip its members to help RCMP with emergencies and high-priority calls.
"We will provide all members of the Alberta sheriffs with full powers to arrest under the Criminal Code," Ellis said.
"Some members of the sheriffs already have Criminal Code authorities, but we believe the public will be better served with consistency throughout this province."
The head of the Alberta RCMP said he welcomes the additional help from the sheriffs.
“These additional resources for the Alberta Sheriffs will improve our combined ability to suppress criminal activity in rural Alberta," said Deputy Commissioner Curtis Zablocki in a statement.
Farooq Sheikh, the chief of Alberta Sheriffs, called it a proud day.
"While our members have a visible presence in many functions they perform such as highway patrol, fish and wildlife enforcement, security in our provincial courts … the sheriffs perform a lot of important work to keep communities safe that's outside of the public eye."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 24, 2023.
The Canadian Press