Town may expand peace officer powers

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

Slave Lake’s peace officers may be getting new responsibilities. This follows public outcry in the past months, calling for the town to ‘do something’ about a rash of property thefts, particularly in industrial areas.

At its Aug. 20th meeting, town council was treated to a fairly lengthy report on the idea of changing how town peace officers operate. This was a result of requests for proposals on the matter by council, following consultations with members of the community frustrated about lack of law enforcement – especially at night and in industrial areas.

One suggestion was to expand the authority of the peace officers, to allow them to handle Criminal Code matters – even if just minor ones. This can apparently be done, but not without a cost (mainly in training). Another factor to consider, said acting CAO Garry Roth in presenting the report, is how busy the peace officers already are.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “They’re getting close to being maxed out.”

The report was about more than just the peace officer program. Also dealt with was the possibility of hiring a security company. The cost would be approximately $95,000 for eight-hour patrols, seven days a week.

An alternative would be to have patrols on alternating days, for around $41,000.

A whole section of Roth’s report was on the subject of vagrancy. From Jan. 1 2018, to June 30 of this year, peace officers investigated 282 complaints, putting in an estimated 1,200 man hours.

This is thought to be about a quarter of their working time in that period.

One thing that might help reduce the burden vagrancy places on the peace officers is somebody being hired to help the homeless/vagrant people get off the street. The town has applied for funding (on behalf of the Friendship Centre) for such a position. Mayor Warman said it would be preferable if neither the RCMP nor the municipal officers had to deal with the vagrancy issue.

Not part of the report, but discussed anyway, was the idea of the town providing the RCMP with another administrative person. The idea there is if officers could be relieved of some of their paperwork duties, they could spend more time ‘on the street.’

Councillor Darin Busk is a proponent of this approach.

“We’ve heard from the public something has to be done,” he said. “It surprised me (to learn) how officers are bogged down by paperwork. We definitely want to have something set up before budget.”

One thing lacking in the discussion was input from the RCMP staff sergeant, who happened to be away from town. Council hopes to have a meeting with him sometime soon for that purpose. In the meantime, they approved a motion to have town administration proceed with a business case “to have community peace officer appointments expanded to include Criminal Code offenses, investigation of non-injury collisions, and execution of criminal warrants.”

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