There has been a lot of discussion recently about the future of policing in Red Deer. What is often forgotten is that from 1901 to 1943, Red Deer had its own City police department.
What is also forgotten is the fact that for 15 years, from 1917 to 1932, Alberta had a provincial police force with regional offices in Red Deer.
The creation of the Alberta Provincial Police (A.P.P.) was rooted in the First World War. With so many men serving overseas in the military, there was a shortage of manpower for police. While the Royal North West Mounted Police (R.N.W.M.P.) had been providing police services across western Canada since 1874, the federal government decided it would be best to focus its reduced police resources on national security and federal legal matters.
Another factor, although not explicitly mentioned, was the implementation of Prohibition in Alberta.
While the federal government offered political support to this new provincial legislation, there was a realization that laws against the sale and consumption of liquor would be difficult to enforce. Hence, the federal authorities were quite happy to have a police force other than the R.N.W.M.P. handle such enforcement.
The federal government served notice in 1916 that it was ending its provincial contracts.
To its credit, the Alberta government was able to get its replacement police force into place by March 1st, 1917. That was made possible by recruiting many members of the R.N.W.M.P. for the A.P.P.
As the A.P.P. got organized, a decision was made to divide the province into five geographical divisions. B Division was created for Central Alberta, with Red Deer as the regional headquarters.
In establishing the relationship with the municipal police, it was agreed that the A.P.P. would, “Investigate and prosecute all criminal cases and infractions of provincial laws” (including breaches of the new Prohibition legislation), while the Red Deer police would, “Attend to all sanitary work, collections of licenses and prosecutions for infractions of City bylaws.”
The changes to policing came at an opportune time.
One of the immediate consequences of the prohibition of alcohol was an astonishing drop in local crime. In his annual report, Red Deer’s Chief of Police stated that only two people were held in the City cells in all of 1917. The police station had become so quiet that City council even considered allowing the Red Cross to use it for its war-time work.
Consequently, the A.P.P. initially shared the City police station on an interim basis.
Shortly thereafter, the provincial government purchased the old Wigwam Men’s Club on the corner of Gaetz Avenue and 54th St. from the Red Deer Social Club. That facility was then used both as the A.P.P.’s headquarters and barracks.
Later, a decision was made to move the A.P.P. offices to the provincial court house, which had been created in an old blue jean factory on the corner of 51st St. and 49th Ave.
The Wigwam building was sold in 1929 and was converted into a funeral home.
As many had expected, during the 1920s, bootlegging and illegal liquor infractions became more and more common. The A.P.P. detachment found itself stretched to handle all of the cases.
With the onset of the Great Depression in 1930, the provincial government faced severe financial difficulties.
Despite tight budget control measures, the cost of the A.P.P. had risen to many times the amount that the province had previously paid to the federal government for the contract with the R.N.W.M.P.
As the Depression continued to deepen, the provincial government finally decided in 1932 to disband the A.P.P.
It negotiated a new contract to get police services from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (the new name for the R.N.W.M.P. which had been adopted in 1920 after an amalgamation with the Dominion Police).
In order to provide its own regional offices, the RCMP in September 1932 signed a $55 per month lease for the two-storey brick building on the northwest corner of Ross Street and 49th Ave.
The building had previously been used as a taxidermy shop. The City acted as the landlord, although the City police department continued to have its own offices elsewhere.