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Grande Prairie swears in new police chief as questions swirl over need for an Alberta force

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Grande Prairie has joined a handful of other Alberta municipalities in creating its own police force.

The city of about 70,000 that's 388 kilometres northwest of Edmonton has sworn in Dwayne Lakusta as the first chief of the Grande Prairie Police Service and has terminated its contract with the RCMP effective March 30, 2026.

Lakusta and his ever-growing staff have less than two years to hire, train and deploy 104 officers, and purchase equipment, intervention tools, vehicles, uniforms, "everything you could think of that a police officer needs," the chief told CTV News Edmonton on Friday.

All that said, Lakusta says the 2026 date for full GPPS control is not a hard one and that his team "is going to work closely with RCMP" to ensure proper policing.

"This is all about community safety and well-being in the city of Grand Prairie," said Lakusta, a 27-year Edmonton Police Service veteran and former head of the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams (ALERT).

"When a resident is calling, there's a need for the police to respond. We've got to make sure that we're responding whether it's going to be the RCMP responding or, once I start to deploy my resources, it could be a combination of RCMP and GPPS, eventually leading to a full complement of police service members here."

Friday marked the first time an Alberta city had sworn in its first police chief since Camrose established its own force in 1956.

Grande Prairie joins Camrose, Edmonton, Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Lacombe and Taber in creating a municipally run police service in addition to First Nations police services for the Blood Tribe, Lakeshore Regional and Tsuu T'ina Nation.

The city's transition to governing its own police force comes as Alberta's public safety minister cites concerns with the province's policing contract with the RCMP, which expires in 2032.

"I have been saying for quite some time that the feds have been signal-checking that they may be looking at moving away from contract policing, that is no secret," Mike Ellis said Thursday during question period at the legislature.

But Kara Westerlund, the vice-president of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA), says her association understands the federal police service wants to better help with policing.

"Any conversations that we have with the federal government on that side is they are not looking at pulling out," Westerlund, a longtime councillor in Brazeau County, told CTV News Edmonton on Friday.

"Actually, they're looking to try and help us as much as they can."

Westerlund said RMA members have been vocal about their desire not to move away from policing by the RCMP, particularly due to costs.

"While it looks nice and shiny and brand new right away, we are really concerned about the long-term costs on taxpayers and our residents because this is going to directly affect your property taxes," she said.

"That is the only way that we can pull funding from our residents and from our businesses."

A 2022 provincial report looking at the cost of ditching the RCMP entirely found Alberta would lose $170 million in funding from the federal government and be forced to pay $366 million in start-up costs for a provincial police force.

The province is covering the bill for Grande Prairie's transition to a municipally-run police force, costing Alberta taxpayers $19 million.

Westerlund also says the RMA finds the RCMP does an adequate job, adding that some of the criminal problems people in rural areas face have more to do with judicial issues than policing ones.

"We're finding our RCMP members and our police services are doing a fantastic job mitigating the concerns from the public around crime, around stolen goods, break-and-enters," she said.

"The problem is what we're seeing — where things are falling short — is on the court side of things. We often talk about that revolving door. The RCMP do a fantastic job getting these criminals off the road and out of breaking into our homes, but we find out two hours later they're released and then picked up again less than 24 hours doing the same thing and then released again." 

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