By Cole Parkinson
The M.D. of Taber is seeing good reaction to their newly rolled out community peace officer program.
In bringing in the new program, one of the biggest things they hoped to accomplish when setting it up was finding the right people to fill the positions.
“We think we’ve picked the two best people for it. Dana Butler is a very experienced police officer in the RCMP, he was with the Ontario Provincial Police before that. He lives in Taber, he lived in Vauxhall, he’s very well known and liked in the area. Henry Peters was born and raised in Purple Springs, good Taber boy, a Low German-speaking Mennonite, he’s definitely well liked in all of those communities, all of the Hutterite communities know him and he can speak the same language. That’s an important thing for the M.D. to reach out to those rate payers, too, and have that voice for them,” said Kirk Hughes, development and community safety officer.
With any new addition to law enforcement, questions have been directed to the M.D. of the difference between police officers and peace officers.
“There’s lots of questions about peace officers, like are they real police officers, and they’re not. All police officers are peace officers but not all peace officers are police officers so that’s where the confusion comes out. We’re not replacing the RCMP, we’re not the M.D.’s private police force — nothing like that. The RCMP are the area jurisdiction, they are the police force of choice for the M.D. of Taber and we supplement them. Instead of reporting to the RCMP, those CPO’s report to me and I report to council. There’s different accountability reporting lines however we’re all on the same team,” said Hughes.
With the RCMP becoming busier with lower numbers throughout the country, the ier with lower numbers throughout the country, the M.D. saw a need to bring in a supplemental unit.
“The M.D. is very serious about the community safety in the region and they’re so serious that they’ve tasked a person, me, to be in charge of it. The peace officers are a result of the rural crime issues that we’ve been experiencing and the rate payers have come back and asked for more municipal enforcement. The RCMP is so busy with the criminal code stuff and I was a part of the Taber/Vauxhall RCMP so I’m aware of those limitations and resources at the detachment. So when the M.D. created this program, their goal was to mind that gap between municipal enforcement and some of the provincial acts that we kind of overlooked due to the amount of the calls received at the detachment,” said Hughes.
While the new CPO’s will be in uniform as peace officers a lot, they also wear plenty of other gear within the M.D. emergency services.
“Our community peace officers also have a pretty unique function, they also wear about three different hats as everyone in the M.D. seems to. They are not only peace officers, they are also firefighters as part of the M.D. That’s a flexible thing as well because they are firefighters in the entire M.D. so as they patrol like today (Oct. 3), they’ll be Hays and Enchant but they’ll also be on the channel for firefighting. So if Enchant or Hays has a fire call those gentleman can transition quite quickly into that role if necessary,” said Hughes. “And of course they do medical first response, so if there’s a call today they can respond immediately and give as much assistance through AHS.”
Within only two full time officers, Hughes believes that there will be room to grow number wise depending on how things go as they move forward.
“There is certainly room to expand and be a part of the business model/development model that the M.D. has. We have two to start off with, three if you include me, if the conditions are right economically we would be looking to add extra people for those positions.”
The program has only been functioning for a month, but they have already seen some interest from the outside about joining because of all the different positions that come with being a CPO.
“In the emergency services we find a lot of people who do both all the time. I was an RCMP officer for 12 years, I was a firefighter for those 12 years on top of being a firefighter for 20 years. I was in the military and ambulance brigade as well so I’m one of those guys, this is the perfect job for me. I know of police officers in the RCMP in southern Alberta that do both fire and policing, I know sheriffs who do both so we attract those people because this is a full time position,” said Hughes.“Not many people can get a job where they are a peace officer, firefighter and a first responder so it really is an all encompassing emergency service cape wearing job. That’s something both of the members and myself have said to the CAO (Derrick Krizsan) here is that the jobs that they are doing, they get the results that they are looking for. They can deal with it a they can follow up with it and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from the communities that we’ve been dealing with.”
Connecting with communities all around the M.D. is important as it gives both the people living in the towns and the CPO’s a chance to get familiar with each other.
Hughes believes having the peace officers around for more than just enforcement will be beneficial for all of the district.
“Rate payers are paying for them and they want to see them doing things and they do. They don’t always want to see them doing enforcement, as an RCMP officer nobody really wanted to see me because if I’m talking to you it’s probably a bad day for you. This is that community policing that the RCMP does believe in as well and they do their very best to do that outreach but that’s these guy’s job,” said Hughes.
Training for the CPO position differed for each of the members involved with the new program.
While Hughes and Butler were already trained enough from the get go, Peters had some course to take in order to get in uniform.
“Myself and Dana Butler are both graduates of the RCMP training academy, so he and I were grandfathered in. Mr. Peters is an auxiliary officer with the RCMP, he went to depot for a few weeks and he had to go to what we call solicitor general’s college in Edmonton. That’s a six week program and he passed with flying colours as we expected him too, so now he’s not only a graduate of the RCMP auxiliary program but also the solicitor generals college. He’s now a fully functional community peace officer level one, he’s ready to go and enforce those rules in the town,” said Hughes.
Even though the new CPO’s are law enforcement, Hughes wants to remind people that any emergency call should still be made to 911 and not the M.D.
“We’re here to help and we have a lot of power under provincial legislation. We can do some criminal code and if we come across something that we think is dangerous or serious, we can always radio the RCMP and we have contact with Taber police. That pushes that community safety concept,” said Hughes. “If there’s any complaints that anyone has with something they see or an emergency please call 911, don’t call the M.D. office. If there’s an emergency that’s life threatening call 911. If you have a pivot complaint or want a school presentation or you’re just not sure about some provincial legislations that comes to the M.D. and the CPO’s can deal with that.”