By Cole Parkinson
Concerns about rising local crime and the need for more policing is becoming a bigger issue within the M.D. of Taber.
At their regular meeting on Nov. 7, the M.D. councillors had a chance to vent their concerns moving forward about the many issues that have come up as rural crime numbers keep surging.
One of the largest issues that surrounds not just the M.D. but the entire country is the insufficiently staffed RCMP detachments.
“It’s national, the RCMP is brutally understaffed right now. I think anyone can Google that and find that out. I would say it’s an epidemic, we have some serious staffing issues within the RCMP. We’ve heard the horror stories, even from this division, about how many hours members have worked and how long they’re by themselves, it’s quite astonishing. I felt that way coming here from the Northwest Territories to the flagship of the RCMP and I thought the staffing levels were low. We can’t do anything about it as a municipality because we don’t have control over our police force so it really goes to the provincial and sometimes the national level,” said Kirk Hughes, development and community safety officer for the M.D. of Taber.
Another question council had was how policing is paid for throughout the M.D.
“I don’t think anyone in the M.D. would disagree that we need better policing but I don’t know if they would be willing to pay more than what other municipalities are willing to do,” said John Turcato, councillor for Division 2.
Hughes was quick to assure the councillors the money wasn’t coming from the M.D. but from the government.
“As a municipality we don’t pay for policing, the province pays for policing. However there are a lot of factors that play into that schedule, which is a polite way of saying it,” said Hughes.
With the lack of policing depth available to the M.D., one program they started has made an impact.
Due to the higher crime rates in the area, the M.D. introduced a community peace officer program earlier this fall.
“The reason we initiated this really comes out of our AGM (annual general meeting) and our concerns of rural crime. What can we do about the rural crime in our areas? So this was the option that we felt would be the most effective,” said Brian Brewin, reeve for the M.D. of Taber.
The program hasn’t been in effect for long but so far it has been a bright spot in law enforcement.
“The CPO program initiated, I would say less than 10 years ago and a lot of municipalities went with it because of the same concerns that you are having right here. They didn’t have control of their provincial police force and they wanted certain local needs to be addressed. Things like running a community volunteer patrol, the RCMP doesn’t do that, well who does? A lot of municipalities, pretty much every municipality in Alberta and a lot of places throughout other provinces are using this model as well,” said Hughes. “Community peace officers are a stop gap, I see that program developing, again they have a lot of power. When I took this position I wasn’t sure what those positions entailed but they do have a considerable amount of power and authority. They are just so flexible, you get a community peace officer and they can enforce anything provincial, municipal and you can direct them to any area.”
Along with Hughes in the program are Dana Butler and Henry Peters, all three come with previous RCMP experience. The RCMP experience the three possess will be beneficial for the M.D. but they say the goal of the program is really to lessen the load on the local RCMP detachment.
“The idea of the community peace officer program was to increase those patrols, increase visibility to do the enhanced position. The idea was that we would take all that work to free up the RCMP so they can continue on with the more urgent investigations. That’s always the idea with community peace officer programs across the province of Alberta and aid in the enhanced position.”
“To bring those less urgent complaints to our level to free up their man power for more urgent complaints. But if they’re only working at 50 per cent manpower, everything to them is urgent and that’s where we run into issues,” said Hughes. “I’ve never worked at a detachment, for 12 years that I was with the RCMP, that was ever full, never. If I had 50 per cent man power, that was pretty good and that is the state of the entire organization. That is something we need to lobby.”
One of the biggest assets the M.D. sees in the CPO program is the ability to place them wherever they are needed throughout the area.
“That’s the beautiful part of this, if we have a problem with people running a stop sign at a certain intersection, we can dedicate the resources and have them there every day for a week if it was that big of an issue for the municipality. Really what we’re getting now is a drive by once a week,” said Derrick Krizsan, CAO of the M.D. of Taber. “One of our key initiatives when we started talking about this program and developing the priorities was traffic enforcement. Particularly stop signs in rural areas because we have number of key ares where there is repeated vehicles running stop signs. In the last five months we’ve had five serious accidents from vehicles running stop signs.”
Another big positive for the M.D. and the program is the ability to use the peace officers anytime.
The flexibility of their schedules allows them to be available whenever they are needed most.
“You have an issue in Enchant? I got two guys in Enchant tomorrow morning and they’re flexible in their schedules. If you need them at night, we can get them at night. If you need them in the afternoon, they can and have proven that they can do that,” said Hughes.
While the CPO program have had a good kickoff for their first few months, there is still more programs in the works.
As well as some new programs, the administration staff is looking to incorporate existing community programs too.
“There are a couple of good programs on their way. Some community volunteer patrols that already exist haphazardly in Grassy Lake. We’re just formalizing them and bringing them under our banner from the Taber Police model,” said Hughes. “The amount of education that has gone forward and just the community collaboration that those two peace officers have already done, I’m impressed with it and they’re way ahead of where I thought they would be at this stage.”