Province denies it is looking to slash staff from Alberta Law Enforcement …

The province is looking at cutting 70 of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Team’s 280 positions to save money, ALERT chair Shami Sandhu said Thursday.

The umbrella organization brings together six teams from across Alberta to deal with fugitives, grow-ops, child pornography, cybercrime and other large cases.

Big cuts will jeopardize that work and put more pressure on Edmonton police, Sandhu said after a city council budget presentation.

“Those programs were created to counter the increase in organized crime, the drugs,� said Sandhu, who is also chair of the Edmonton Police Commission.

“We’re barely holding the line with the ALERT model as it is with the number of positions we have. If you take 70, that’s a big chunk … I call it a shoestring budget.�

The government has asked for a business case from ALERT. Any reductions to the group, formed in 2006, will be part of next year’s provincial budget, he said.

Alberta Justice Minister Jonathan Denis wouldn’t comment on whether ALERT faces cuts, saying only that no decisions have been made.

Later in the day, Dan Laville, communications director for the Justice and Solicitor General department, insisted the province is not looking at a funding cut for ALERT.

Edmonton police Chief Rod Knecht called the prospect of ALERT cuts “disconcerting,� saying he will tell the government how important the group is to public safety.

It improves co-operation among police in Alberta and across Canada, particularly on complex cases that cover multiple jurisdictions, he said.

“Historically, we did those with joint-forces operations where we set up, we worked on a target, then everybody went back to their respective agencies,� he said.

“ALERT gets rid of all that. We’re working all the time on the targets … If the funding for ALERT is retracted, that falls on the shoulders of the Edmonton police.�

The province pays for about 40 EPS staff to work with ALERT, so the city would face extra salary costs if some of those positions were eliminated, Knecht said.

He didn’t know how many EPS officers might be affected by the proposed cuts.

“My long-term plan was actually to build up that area of policing as we go forward with future budget asks,� he said.

“I think there’s a segment of crime we’re not dealing with just because of the pressures on the front line right now.�

Denis couldn’t say if the next provincial budget will have money for crime prevention.

“Over the last three years I’ve maintained a fund to fund more than 300 new police officers throughout this entire province. Edmonton gets about a third of that.�

With files from Mariam Ibrahim

gkent@edmontonjournal.com

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