By Trevor Busch
The Taber Municipal Police Commission (TMPC) is considering a funding scenario for police officers to attend national or provincial funerals or memorials for fellow officers that have been killed in the line of duty.
On Aug. 19, Cst. Greg Schneider of the Taber Police Service paid tribute to Cst. Sara Burns and Cst. Robb Costello who were killed in a violent incident in Fredericton this summer. Schneider had been a troop mate with Burns at the Atlantic Police Academy.
“I do want to advise you, sir, that Constable Schneider attended the funeral of Constable Robb Costello and (Cst.) Sara Burns who were murdered in Fredericton (N.B.) in August,” said TPS chief Graham Abela at the commission’s Sept. 12 regular meeting. “He attended, at his own expense, to that event, and he did represent the police service in uniform.”
Chair Ken Holst requested clarification of the procedure involved for the police service when requests are received for officers or representatives to attend funerals or memorials.
“Is that something that should be on his own expense? What’s the normal protocol in the country as far as attending funerals? Obviously this was very special to him being a troop mate, and knowing the closeness of that, having been killed in the line of duty. What’s the normal protocol for the Taber Police Service, or anywhere, as far as attending funerals and memorial services? Just a thought that it might be a gesture of good faith for representing us.”
Abela explained that in the case of services that take place outside the province, the police service doesn’t currently have a budget to allow officers to attend at public expense.
“It’s unfortunate, but local events that occur we tend to be able to travel to. For events that occur in eastern Canada, I simply don’t have a budget line for that. We send often our regrets and letters if we are unable to attend in person. In this case, I was actually on holidays when this murder happened. Constable Schneider made the decision to go without coming to me — which is fine, I have no problems with that. I don’t have a budget line, but if you have a suggestion to do it, maybe it would be beneficial to at least provide some value back.”
Commission representative John MacDonald felt that allocating funds before formulating a policy would be putting the cart before the horse.
“I would think that we should have a policy. We should have something under policy to cover that kind of situation. In this situation, he’s there wearing his dress uniform representing our department, I would not see a problem with support from us.”
Another commission representative, Wanda Renner, inquired if this was something that should be more rightly funded through the Taber Police Association rather than taxpayers.
“The Taber Police Association is a society. I can’t speak to whether or not they have funds specifically for that,” replied Abela. “If the commission felt it was a decent idea, that’s something I could take back and examine. It’s not an operational issue, it’s a policy decision. If you felt that was something you’d like me to do, I could definitely look to see if I can find that in our budget.”
Coun. Joe Strojwas, who serves as one of two council representatives on the commission, was supportive of the idea but also wanted to see a policy addition formulated first.
“Unfortunately, as a policy item, we don’t have a policy addressing that. We’re kind of caught between a rock and hard place on this, as much as we’d like to support and should be supporting them, probably we should create a policy to address this type of thing on a go-forward basis. We should set some funds aside for something like this.”
Backpedaling slightly, Holst expressed concern that funding of this nature could represent an ongoing financial issue for the town.
“Or does that set a precedent then? As a policy, it would then alleviate any concerns as far as setting a precedent where everyone’s asking for everything.”
While the TMPC can set or implement new policies, ultimately any funding decision for those policies rests in the hands of town council.
“The commission can establish its policies, because that’s its role,” said Abela. “Under Section 29 of the Police Act, we put forward a budget with the programs and services that we provide that goes to the council, and then council determines if they can fund it.”
Strojwas asked if the Taber Police Association had funded any of Schneider’s expenses to attend the funeral in August.
“I don’t think so. Constable Schneider didn’t ask for anything. He made the decision and he went. When I was the president if someone came to me, I would look at our budget and say ‘Yes, we’ve got a couple hundred dollars.’ The police association is not rife with money. It’s not like CUPE national or something like that. It’s just 13 members.”
Abela confirmed his intention to take the idea back to the police service and association for discussion, as well as any potential policy update.