+ RMA Rural Municipalities
of Alberta

Resolution 10-19F

Community Peace Officer Access to RCMP Radio Channels

Date:
November 1, 2019
Expiry Date:
December 1, 2022
Active Status:
Active
Sponsors:
MD of Foothills
District:
1 - Foothills-Little Bow
Year:
2019
Convention:
Fall
Category:
Emergency Services
Status:
Accepted in Principle
Vote Results:
Carried
Preamble:

WHEREAS rural municipalities employ community peace officers (CPOs) under the Peace Officer Act; and

WHEREAS rural municipalities are responsible for ensuring the safety of CPOs; and

WHEREAS CPOs provide a supplementary level of municipal law enforcement within rural municipalities across Alberta where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) are the police service of jurisdiction; and

WHEREAS CPOs provide assistance at emergency scenes where timely communication with RCMP members is imperative, both for the officer and public safety; and

WHEREAS the Alberta First Responders Radio Communication System (AFRRCS) was designed and implemented by the Government of Alberta with the intention of improving and integrating radio communications among first responders from different agencies; and

WHEREAS CPOs have historically been provided access to monitor and transmit on RCMP radio channels through the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between individual municipalities and the RCMP; and

WHEREAS the RCMP across Alberta have encrypted their AFRRCS channels which now prevents CPOs from monitoring and transmitting on RCMP radio channels; and

WHEREAS this lack of direct, timely communication between CPOs and RCMP members presents increased officer safety risks for CPOs;

Operative Clause:

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta request that the Government of Alberta work with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) ‘K’ Division and National Headquarters, and any other organizations necessary, to develop policies and/or a memorandum of understanding to permit community peace officers to monitor and transmit on local RCMP Alberta First Responders Radio Communication System radio channels in the normal course of their duties.

Member Background:

The Government of Alberta has developed the Alberta First Responder Radio Communications System (AFRRCS), a two-way radio network for first responders in municipal, provincial and First Nations agencies across the province. The key reason for AFRRCS was to improve safety and enhance communications between first responder agencies. However, in some cases the opposite is happening as some agencies protect information to the exclusion of vital partners in serving our communities; two primary examples are Alberta Health Services excluding fire departments, and RCMP excluding community peace officers (CPOs).

With the uptake of AFRRCS underway, problems started to emerge when the RCMP decided to encrypt their radio channels, thereby removing the ability of supporting law-enforcement agencies to communicate with them through AFRRCS. This decision has made radio communication between CPOs and RCMP worse than before AFRRCS, because encryption of radio channels has completely separated agencies from functioning as teams to respond.

This problem affects the delivery of service and safety of CPOs in all rural municipalities throughout Alberta, particularly when rural crime continues to be a major issue. CPOs are often the “eyes and ears” of rural Alberta. If CPOs are not aware of RCMP actions, they will not be aware of potentially dangerous situations or know to be on the lookout for suspects and vehicles as they drive around, and be unable to pass along key information to the RCMP.

AFRRCS provides quality communication; however, encryption has blocked easy access to the daily, operational communications between the RCMP and CPOs, and compromised the situational awareness that results from the sharing of important information. CPOs can communicate with RCMP and other agencies in large-scale events via Common Event Talkgroup channels. However, the loss of day-to-day operational communications puts CPOs at increased risk.

If a CPO needs assistance, they now have to contact their dispatch, which in turn calls RCMP dispatch, which then forwards information to the RCMP member on duty. This approach is not practical or safe in an emergency situation due to the time it takes. The only other alternative for the CPO is to call 911.

CPOs may get involved in extremely high-risk situations, which they would otherwise have avoided if they were able to hear RCMP communications. Examples from 2019 include:

  • RCMP and other agencies, including CPOs, responded to a school bus collision. Because of the information sharing gaps since transition to AFRRCS, the CPOs were unaware that the individual involved in this collision was armed and had car-jacked a passer-by who had stopped to lend assistance.
  • RCMP attempted to stop a vehicle that was associated with a complaint of shots fired. The vehicle evaded the RCMP and was later found on a nearby highway. During this incident with RCMP, a CPO was conducting speed enforcement in the same area, placing him directly in the middle of a very dangerous situation without even knowing it.
  • RCMP were dispatched to a male suffering from gunshot wounds. At the same time, a CPO was requested by a Public Works employee to attend a location for an injured person. Very little information was provided by the employee, and the CPO soon found himself in the middle of a criminal complaint that the RCMP were responding to, and that he was totally unaware of.
  • A CPO narrowly escaped being rammed after responding to a simple “litter” complaint. The suspects were armed and dangerous prolific offenders that were stripping copper wire. They had run from the RCMP earlier, but CPOs were unaware because of the AFRRCS disconnect. It took over 20 minutes for the CPO to contact and report the information to RCMP via telephone. The following day, the offenders were apprehended at gunpoint in a high-risk stop.
  • Unknowingly, a CPO became involved in a domestic dispute (RCMP file), when he pulled over a speeding vehicle.
RMA Background:

RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.

Government Response:

Alberta Municipal Affairs

  • In Budget 2020, the Alberta First Responders Radio Communications System (AFRRCS), proposes the transfer of responsibility from Service Alberta to Municipal Affairs.
  • AFRRCS was initiated in 2007 under Alberta Justice and Solicitor General to establish the radio system and became operational in 2016.
    • First responder agencies in Alberta are currently migrating to AFRRCS as a primary radio system with over 32,000 users currently enrolled.
  • The RCMP and provincial Community Peace Officers (CPOs) are both on the AFRRCS.
    • Each organization has separate talk groups on the system.
    • Communication sharing would need to be approved by the RCMP, which has not yet occurred.
    • Not all CPOs are equipped with radios that can support channel encryption, and the RCMP have encrypted all their operational channels.
  • The sharing of talk group channels, which are separate and encrypted channels on the network between RCMP and CPOs, is not controlled by AFRRCS and is completely under the control of the user organizations who desire interoperability.
    • The AFRRCS network is functioning as designed and the sharing of talk group channels and encryption is system capability and occurs between other organizations.
  • The RCMP and Justice and Solicitor General are aware of the concerns and are working with the CPO community.
    • The issue is not AFRRCS system capability but agreements required between the RCMP and CPO organizations.

Alberta Justice and Solicitor General

Since the implementation of the Alberta First Responders Radio Communication System (AFRRCS), authorized employers of community peace officers (CPO) have expressed concerns about the limitations and impacts of less direct communication with their RCMP counterparts at local detachments. While some of these challenges may have been addressed through local and regional communication protocols, ongoing challenges remained.

RCMP “K” Division is exploring options for facilitating communication between CPOs and the RCMP through AFRRCS. The RCMP has advised that it will be running a six-month pilot project at three sites to assess the viability and options for AFRRCS communication between CPOs and the RCMP. The Town of Okotoks, City of Grande Prairie and Grande Prairie County have been selected as the sites for this pilot project. The pilot project will commence in early 2020.

At the conclusion of the pilot project, consideration will be given to expanding access to CPOs, on a case-by- case basis, taking into consideration structure and logistical challenges at each detachment. Strict control over the access to radio communications that involve the RCMP is the essential criteria in the assessment process.

Depending on the outcome of this pilot project, it is possible that not all authorized employers and their CPOs will be granted the permission/privilege of having access to AFRRCS communications with the RCMP. However, all potential avenues to have direct communication with the RCMP will be explored and examined.

The RCMP has requested patience during this critical assessment process and more information will be released following the pilot project.

Development:

In 2020, the Government of Alberta completed a pilot project involving the use of the Alberta First Responder Radio Communications System (AFRRCS) to allow shared radio communications between RCMP and community peace officers (CPOs). The pilot involved six municipalities (Town of Okotoks, County of Grande Prairie, City of Grande Prairie, City of Red Deer, Foothills County and Clearwater County). According to the Government of Alberta, the pilot was successful, and plans are in place to enact the permanent use of AFRRCS for RCMP/CPO communications in the six pilot municipalities, as well as expand the option of using AFRRCS for RCMP/CPO communications in all municipalities in the province.

At this point, the Government of Alberta and RCMP are developing the process for making this option available, and hope to provide municipalities with detailed implementation information, including technology requirements, costs, etc. at some point in 2021. RMA is seeking an update on this work.

This resolution is assigned a status of Accepted in Principle and will be re-assessed based on the roll-out of enhanced RCMP/CPO communication through AFRRCS.

Provincial Ministries:
Justice and Solicitor General,
Service Alberta
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