Police recommendation: Upgraded or amalgamated
Less than 24 hours after the tabling of the Livre Vert on “Police reality in Quebec” report, Public Security Minister Geneviève Guilbault poured cold water on fears the MRC des Collines could potentially lose its municipal police force.
On May 25, the Advisory Committee on Police Reality, tabled in 2019 by Guilbault, released its final 490-page report offering 138 recommendations to improve policing in the province, taking into account new technologies, racial profiling, cost reduction, and the welfare of police officers.
Among those recommendations was the reduction of the number of police service levels in the province from six to four, doing away with the lowest two. This would mean that municipal police forces currently providing service at a first or second level, like the level two MRC des Collines Police, would either have to be upgraded to a level three or amalgamated into the Sûreté du Québec, the provincial police service.
If the recommendation was acted upon, it would see the number of municipal police forces in the province reduced from 31 to 13, which Guilbault assured residents that the Legault government had no plans to do so in the “short and medium-term.”
“These are not decisions we can take just like that, rapidly, without having documented and looked at the costs, without having discussions,” Guilbault said at a press conference on May 26. “For the moment, nothing will move…[w]e will keep things as they are.”
Guilbault added that before acting, the province would have to consult with municipalities and local police forces. However Caryl Green, the mayor of Chelsea and prefect for the MRC, said that the province and the police will need to come up with a clear list of services and a price tag before those consultations can even begin.
"We don't have that number, but we've also asked the police to give us a clear indication of what new services would be added at a level three,” Green explained. “Before we can consult with residents, we have to know what it is they are expected to take a position on.”
While there are no actual hard numbers to compare how much more it would cost taxpayers if the MRC police upgraded to a level three service, Green explained that if they were to be amalgamated into the SQ, municipalities would be billed directly by the province rather than paying through the MRC’s budget. The province would also provide a subsidy based on the municipality’s economic status.
"Our residents are paying twice"
The province does not currently provide a subsidy for municipal police forces, but equitable financing was one of the main focuses of the MRC’s own recommendations to the Livre Vert consultations in November 2020.
“The SQ is financed up to 50 per cent by the provincial government, but our MRC Police receive no funding,” Green explained. “Our residents are paying twice — through their provincial taxes for the SQ and the MRC Police through municipal taxes.”
If the MRC were to receive some form of subsidy from the province for policing, either through amalgamation into the SQ or directly to a level three MRC police, it would undoubtedly save taxpayers quite a bit of money.
“The police budget is roughly half the MRC's total budget,” Green explained. The 2021 police budget of $15.4 million works out to 54.7 per cent of the MRC’s $28.2 million total budget tabled in November 2020. The police budget has seen a 32.81 per cent increase over six years, from $11,641,200 in 2015.
For the same period, the MRC Police’s Patrol Division saw an increase of 32.48 per cent of its budget; the Criminal Investigation Division, an increase of 19.84 per cent; and the administration, an increase of 25.23 per cent. The bulk of the budget increases have come from salaries.
Since its creation in 1996, the MRC Police has grown from 20 employees in 2000 to a staff of 80 in 2020. Currently, the MRC Police have 63 permanent officers, according to data from the Livre Vert report.