By Trevor Busch
The Village of Barnwell could soon be contracting their bylaw enforcement to the Municipal District of Taber’s Community Peace Officer Program.
As they currently patrol M.D. regions, the Village of Barnwell and the Town of Vauxhall had both shown interest in using the CPO’s services moving forward. Barnwell originally approached the M.D. earlier this year, asking about incorporating the M.D. officers into regular patrols within the village. During M.D. council’s regular meeting on May 8, councillors discussed a letter they received from the Town of Vauxhall requesting a similar proposition.
Since last discussing the matter during an M.D. regular meeting in March, M.D. administration have got a decent idea of what the Village of Barnwell would need from the community peace officers.
“So we had an opportunity to meet and discuss some of the community’s needs here in the village,” said M.D. CAO Derrick Krizsan, speaking as a delegation at Barnwell’s May 17 regular meeting. “Subsequent to that discussion, we received an inquiry from the Town of Vauxhall as well regarding their current service provider being no longer able to provide bylaw services to them. So we’ve met with them, they’re going to have a further discussion at their council meeting in terms of what their needs are, but it’s similar to the Village of Barnwell, which was traffic enforcement, select bylaw enforcement on a community basis, as well as primarily moving violations, something their current bylaw officer couldn’t address. So we’re waiting to hear back from Vauxhall, and we’ll be back once we have final direction for Barnwell, we’ll examine the needs of the two communities, and then go back to our council to determine if there’s potential.”
One of the biggest hang ups when considering expanding the CPO’s roles in the area is whether or not they have enough manpower. Since the peace officer staff is only comprised of three members — Dana Butler, Henry Peters, and Kirk Hughes — adding even more to their plates may not be sustainable, especially since they already canvas a large region to begin with. Before moving ahead with adding Barnwell and Vauxhall to the slate, the CPO team will be assessing what they require.
“In the past — both Peters and Butler being former RCMP officers like myself — issues that we always ran into would be school zones in the morning,” said Hughes, who serves as development and community safety officer. “That’s something I know that’s been brought up before in Barnwell. Sunday nights and Sunday afternoons are always a concern. So our flexibility — depending on what your needs are, to meet those needs the guys have done this before. What you get for your money, so to speak, not only is just the bylaw enforcement. You get that information and policy with regard to things like cannabis, which is a hot topic for everybody. There’s uniform presence in schools, there’s seniors citizens that have some issues and concerns. We bring that kind of professionalism to our positions in the hopes of not only acceptance of our presence to lower crime, but also we’re here to help the citizens of those communities as well. So when you make this kind of payment into the program, you’re not just getting one guy a couple of times a week, you’re likely getting two or three officers focusing on those speed zones, or those areas of concern. You’re not just getting one, you’re getting all three of us. And that’s something that we’ve seen to be quite beneficial.”
While the M.D.’s CPO program might be an attractive option for the village, it wouldn’t come without a significant cost factor for local taxpayers.
“Our operational cost is about $50 per hour. You had indicated that your budget is about $10,000 annually,” said Krizsan. “So that would be about 200 hours per year, so that works out to about 16-18 hours per month. So certainly depending upon the type of level of enforcement you would like, we could target those areas. Traffic and moving violations depending on location and timing, coming up with an operational plan to address those key areas would be important. It would really be understanding what your primary concerns are, and making sure we hit the target with that operational plan.”
Officers conduct regular vehicle, foot, and ATV patrols of communities, while working closely with the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP detachment. The CPO program also operates the Range Patrol initiative, and conducts regular school and senior home visits.
“The level of training surprises me,” said Barnwell Mayor Del Bodnarek. “I didn’t realize how high a level of training you guys have, which is impressive. Your training is on par with the RCMP.”
Barnwell CAO Wendy Bateman indicated local residents imbued with a “small town mentality” are more likely to follow the direction of a uniformed officer.
“We’ve always felt that somebody in uniform has a little more clout when it comes to enforcing bylaws, because there’s a lot of small town mentality around here. They’re not going to listen to us.”
Krizsan pointed out that while enforcement action is sometimes necessary, working with the carrot rather than the stick often has more positive results.
“It’s always our preference to bring awareness to people. We would prefer in every respect to have voluntary compliance through education. That’s the primary goal. As an administrator, it’s important to remember that we’re there to serve the public, however we have to balance the public good. Individuals doing things that are potentially affecting the use and enjoyment of their property, or their safety, has to be addressed. This was a very significant policy decision by our council, and it’s one that your council should consider very thoroughly. What I’ve found is everyone is in favour of more enforcement until they’re the ones getting pulled over.”
Coun. Kent Bullock approved of this approach.
“I like the warning part a lot. For me personally, there’s a lot of times — probably 90 per cent of the time — I’ve got my seatbelt on, but it’s usually when I get to the highway. It’s just a habit.”
From a public relations perspective, Krizsan argued achieving a strong visual presence in communities throughout the M.D. of Taber has been half the battle.
“One of the issues that we feel is significant is the visual presence. Having a marked vehicle coming through your community more regularly hand-in-hand with our RCMP partners, we feel that’s been a significant value to our community, and certainly the way things have been going they’re going to wear these trucks out a lot faster than we planned. But our citizens want to see these vehicles, and they want to see the presence, and I think that’s an important part of this.”
While the M.D. would maintain control over the CPO program, Krizsan envisions the village office playing a critical role in any potential contract arrangement.
“If this discussion proceeds to a formal operating relationship with the village, what I think is the complaints would be coming through your village office. This is your community, and these are your citizens. Certainly having you involved in that communication stream is very important, I believe.”
Following discussion, council voted unanimously to forward a letter to M.D. of Taber council requesting the contracted services of the M.D.’s Community Peace Officer Program.