The city’s police force is studying the idea of creating community safety officers — a plan that could free up regular officers to focus on crime-fighting, bolster recruitment and help control policing costs.
“I think the more you do to help your fully trained police officers, and give them more free time to do the things that they need to do, or they’re trained to do and equipped to do, the better,” Brandon Police Service Chief Ian Grant said in a recent interview.
The program is made possible by recently passed provincial legislation that allows municipalities outside of Winnipeg to run community safety officer programs.
Winnipeg has its own charter that allowed it to launch a Police Auxiliary Cadets program in 2010, and the new legislation allows communities beyond the Perimeter Highway to effectively do the same thing.
“The community safety officers will allow communities to craft their own program similar to Winnipeg’s auxiliary police cadet program,” provincial Justice Minister Andrew Swan said in an interview this week.
Thompson will be the first to get the program, Swan said, and discussions between that city, the province and RCMP are underway.
While the community safety officers (CSOs) will be employed by municipalities, Swan said it’s possible the province will fund positions for communities with limited means.
Grant has already written Swan to express interest in introducing a CSO program to Brandon, and the force is researching the Winnipeg program and a similar initiative in Vancouver.
An officer assigned to research the project has begun to consult officers on their possible duties. So far, the concept is backed by the Brandon Police Association.
BPA president Kevin Loewen said that, while there’s concern about handing over some duties currently performed by regular officers, the CSO program could be an economic way to hire more staff without hiring full-fledged officers. It would allow existing regular officers to get back to “meat and potatoes” policing.
“It might be an opportunity for our community to be able to dedicate more staff without having to hire full-fledged police officers,” Loewen said. “I don’t see this as a plan for the community to be able to downsize the police service.”
There’s no timeline for when a CSO program may be set up here, and the duties the officers would perform is speculation at this point.
In general, the legislation states that they’ll work on crime prevention strategies, connect social services with people in need and maintain a visible presence in the community.
The province’s justice minister has the power to give CSOs additional powers to enforce certain laws, but they’re yet to be specified. Regulations that outline their duties, responsibilities, equipment and training have also yet to be created by the province.
Swan said CSOs will be municipal employees supervised by the local police agency.
He said work continues on the regulations, but there’s no deadline.
While there will be general standards across the province, the additional powers section of the legislation will allow municipalities to tailor their CSOs’ duties.
“Each community will decide which provincial laws they think would be very helpful to allow these community safety officers to do their work,” Swan said.
Swan said that in Thompson, for example, there’s interest in having CSOs enforce the Intoxicated Persons Detention Act and some powers under the Highway Traffic Act that involve traffic control.
Here, an agreement would have to be struck between the BPS, the city and the minister that outlines such details as the management, budget, and supervision. Wage would be negotiated with the BPA.
CSOs would have peace officer status, which indicates they would have the power to make arrests.
While the limits of CSO duties aren’t clearly defined at this point, Grant said they wouldn’t be involved in emergency calls or calls where there’s a possibility of violence, and they wouldn’t be involved in the investigation of major crimes.
Nevertheless, Grant outlined a wide range of possible CSO duties currently performed by regular officers and bylaw officers, which would free regular officers to answer other calls, focus on other enforcement and solve crimes.
CSO duties could include foot patrols downtown, traffic control at parades or collisions, bylaw enforcement, writing traffic tickets, community presentations and setting up neighbourhood watch groups.
They could help design new neighbourhoods with crime-resistant features such as improved sight lines, and conduct limited work enforcing the Highway Traffic and Liquor Control acts.
Grant said additional powers could include tasks that currently tie up regular officers for hours — waiting at the hospital while prisoners undergo mental health assesments, guarding crime scenes and securing sudden death scenes until a medical examiner or body removal service arrives.
CSOs could be trained in use-of-force, and armed with pepper spray or a baton, but Grant said they wouldn’t carry sidearms.
Whatever the duty, Grant said CSOs would receive some level of supervision from regular officers.
The program could also help recruitment.
Graduates of the Assiniboine Community College Police Studies program could apply to be CSOs, for example. Their work in the program would help the force determine who has potential to become regular police officers.
The idea could also save tax dollars.
Grant said the need to hire more police officers for a growing city will remain. But the hiring of CSOs — who would free officers for other tasks, while being paid a lower rate — could reduce the number of additional regular officers that need to be hired and contain costs.
“To me, in looking at it, it’s all about trying to work in a more efficient manner,” Grant said. “We realize that we live in an environment where people are cognizant about how much money is being invested into public safety.”
Loewen said that in the case of such tasks as guarding crime scenes, CSOs and their lower wage could cut overtime costs.
Grant said the introduction of CSOs won’t mean the loss of regular officers.
They would assist bylaw officers, for example, or help community policing officers reach more groups.
The chief said he hopes to have a business plan sometime later this year. That will allow the formation of a plan specific to the city’s needs.