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MD peace officers willing to take on more authority

The MD of Bonnyville is looking into how their peace officers can aid RCMP.
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The MD of Bonnyville is looking into how their officers can be more helpful to RCMP.

BONNYVILLE - MD of Bonnyville peace officers are wanting to take some of the load off of local RCMP members' shoulders by taking on more responsibility.

“We can help the RCMP with some of those minor investigations. I would suggest that giving us that authority would probably help more than just simply giving them an officer. That officer you’re going to give them, you can’t tell them you want them just doing theft under $5,000 or mischief under $5,000. They would be absorbed into the general pool of officers, which involves all kinds of other investigations,” said Luis Gandolfi, director of public safety for the MD. “I know for a fact that if we went to thefts under $5,000 in support of both detachments, I think they would see the value in that."

It was during the MD of Bonnyville council's April 28 meeting that Gandolfi explained the work the province is doing to better understand how peace officers across Alberta could offer more assistance to their corresponding RCMP detachments.

“This really originated from a letter that was authored through council on Sept. 1, 2020... to the Honourable Minister of Justice and Solicitor General, requesting enhanced authorities for peace officers,” outlined Gandolfi. “Essentially to be able to alleviate some of the pressure from the RCMP and take on some the responsibilities they were struggling with."

The response the MD received in February stated the province is piloting the use of peace officers in different ways such as investigating theft under $5,000, mischief under $5,000, motor vehicle collisions where there is no criminal offence or injuries involved, and the execution of criminal code arrest warrants.

“This was supposed to have already started, however due to COVID everything got pushed back, so we’re looking at June 1 for these pilots to commence,” Gandolfi noted, adding these pilots are being conducted in certain communities such as Red Deer, Banff, Cardston, and Clearwater County.

He continued, “The pilots call for the RCMP to call upon the community peace officers when appropriate, so it isn’t a case where any mischief under $5,000 or under $5,000 theft would automatically go to the peace officer programs. It was on an as-needed basis, essentially by invitation through the RCMP."

The letter also addresses the question as to whether the province is headed in a direction that would see peace officers carry sidearms.

According to Gandolfi, "there's no real movement" from the Alberta government to start the process due to a number of factors.

"It’s not just a situation where we’re learning how to shoot, maintain, and legally possess firearms. There’s also critical thinking that has to go along with that, scenario-based training, a variety of things have to be explored such as liabilities, insurance, and things of that nature,” explained Gandolfi.

However, Gandolfi does think there is a place for firearms in their organization.

“I would like to see our people armed, just because we’re dealing with the public and you never know. You just don’t know until you’re in it,” he stated.

Coun. Marc Jubinville wondered if it was something their peace officers wanted.

“I think the majority of them would, simply because even though we aren’t mandated to do some of these higher-risk (files), where you see police responding code one, lights and sirens, we’re not mandated to do that. But, the kinds of things we are mandated to do, we deal with people all of the time on the side of the road. We have no idea who they are, what’s in their vehicle, or what their criminal record is until we interact with them," Gandolfi responded. “I think there has to be a broader discussion on whether that gives us the ability then to take on some of the other responsibility of the police, because by then you’re almost becoming a police force. I think if you just look at the peace officer role and just what we’re doing now, I think we should... That’s my personal opinion.”

The public safety department currently has three shotguns at their disposal. Gandolfi believes it would be useful to have their officers trained to use the firearms.

“I know the RCMP have called us on several occasions to help them with wildlife, animals that have been injured on the roadway,” 

Another area Gandolfi would like to start working on with or without the data from the provincial pilots is the authority on primary and secondary highways.

“Right now, we only have authority on three-digit highways and MD roads. However, we can ask for authority on primary and secondary, including Hwy. 55 for example, Hwy. 41, and Hwy. 28. We do have the ability to ask for that right now... We would have to have the approval of the RCMP from both detachments in order to do that, but it can be done,” he explained to council.

However, he continued, there are pros and cons to going ahead with this step.

“There’s two sides to this. Number one, if the intent is to help the RCMP and to help them with their mandate and relieve some of their pressure, then it’s a good thing because it allows them to focus on other things and we can help with some of the enforcement on those primary and secondary (roads). That being said, when we are on a primary or secondary, we aren’t on an MD road, so there’s a bit of a balance there that we have to find if we did decide to go down that road,” said Gandolfi.

Another area the province will be testing over the summer is utilizing peace officers to arrest those wanted on warrants.

Gandolfi explained, “By no means are we going to be executing an arrest warrant project, but if we’re dealing with someone on the side of the road and they have a warrant, that would be where I see it coming into play."

The way Reeve Greg Sawchuk sees this going would have peace officers following up with resident complaints such as minor thefts.

“What we heard from the residents is a lot of times, especially theft for example, they call it in, they get a file number, but there isn’t really any follow-up. What I would call a low hanging fruit would be someone going out there and helping these people by having some sort of one-on-one, taking a statement, look for evidence, that type of thing. It’s lower risk, the crime has already taken place, it’s after the fact, just something to tell these people that their file isn’t just sitting there doing nothing,” he detailed.

Gandolfi said this is one area they could assist the local detachments in.

He told council because of COVID and their limited interactions with the public at this time, they wouldn't have any issues taking on additional responsibilities.

“I can tell you right now, if we had all of these authorities, we would be more than capable of doing it simply because of COVID. We’ve dialled back a bit of the interaction, we aren’t doing as much traffic, etc. So we would have no trouble this year, and probably moving forward,” he detailed, adding the department has 12 members and are in the process of hiring another.

“I think the nice thing about this situation to is it’s not going to change overnight. I think we will see the restrictions fall off of the table gradually, so as some of these authorities are coming online and we’re able to help more, we are also able to get out, do the work, and interact with people,” continued Gandolfi.

While they wait for the province to get started on the pilot program, Gandolfi will look into what authorities they can take-on in the meantime and bring it back to council for further discussion and a decision.

Meagan MacEachern, Bonnyville Nouvelle