I hope you are enjoying the sun after that big snowfall last night. Spring is just around the corner. We are busy at council with our three-year budget discussions and there is a lot of hard work happening at the municipality.
As described in the Community Strategic Plan, the municipality is on its way to a Peace Officer Program. I am concerned about some comments I have heard recently and I think there are misconceptions about what is happening so here is a bit of background.
The previous council embarked on an ambitious Community Standards program part way through their term. It set forth basic standards that are expected in the community, and I was a very vocal supporter of this initiative. I thought that the issue had largely been laid to rest but after becoming a councillor I was still getting the question, “we have these community standards, we have a trained bylaw officer, why is the town still a mess”? After months of digging by council and administration, several issue came to light. One of the biggest concerns is that many of our bylaws are difficult to enforce, if they can be enforced at all. This frustration has been expressed by both our bylaw officer and residents. While important steps were taken to create these community standards, it turns out there are a lot of loopholes and several important supporting bylaws are missing. Programs of this depth often have to go through a period of change and development; you do not necessarily come up with all of the solutions at once and you refine with experience. To me, what we are doing with this Peace Officer Program is simply refining the important work that was started a few years ago. I have read several important studies that all recommend we do more to ensure our community is cleaned up and that our standards are upheld.
The question comes up, “why a Peace Officer when we have a bylaw officer”? POs have much greater ability to enforce both our bylaws and provincial statues than a bylaw officer, and they have far more tools at their disposal. Right now our bylaw officer cannot even have a car towed. There is no sense in enacting bylaws if the person in charge of enforcing them has no real authority to see it through. In addition to enforcing municipal bylaws, POs can deal with traffic infractions more extensively than a bylaw officer. In general, moving to a peace officer program will allow us to reach our enforcement goals more easily while covering a greater number of public complaints and safety concerns at the same time. The way it was described to council is that the program will be 30% responding to complaints, 30% investigating infractions (not called in), 30% community engagement and education, and 10% flexible time to respond to issues that arise.
I read a comment in the letter to the editor that said we are going to become “a police state”. The need to enforce our bylaws does not make us a police state; it means we care enough about the quality of life here in Crowsnest Pass that we are willing to set rules and stick with them. This is critical to our future success. Nobody wants to invest in a community that does not show a sense of civic pride. The majority of residents do have that sense of responsibility but for those who flaunt the rules, there will be consequences. It is not draconian to expect people to follow a basic set of community guidelines. Not doing so compromises the quality of life for other residents. In most every case, the regulations are just common sense and the majority of people will not have any issues. There was another concern in that same letter about the officers carrying shotguns. At the outset, they may not have them and, if they do, they are only to be used to euthanize dangerous or distressed animals under very distinct conditions. We are not going to have gun totin’ Rambo types working for us.
Another question is, “why two, not one officer”? That actually has not been formally decided, although I believe we need to have two. With only one officer, it does not allow us any flexibility for night shifts, or weekends. Problems do not only arise 9-5 on weekdays. There is, of course, the question of costs. In every municipality that has a similar program, these officers pay for themselves. I do not want to give the impression that we are conspiring to prey upon residents in the hope of making extra money. There will be a period of education to start. In some cases, fines may be given in egregious circumstances. The bulk of of fines given by the officer(s) will likely be traffic related. Let’s face it – we have traffic problems. An RCMP officer could sit on Hwy 3 in Coleman and give traffic tickets all day long without end. If you look at Longview, their Peace Officer Program has done wonders to decrease the number of speeders through town; anyone who travels Hwy 22 on a regular basis knows this to be true. These programs work.
We are years, if not decades, behind in the development and application of our community standards. This program will make the Crowsnest Pass a better place. It will take time but I believe this is what the majority of our residents want, and I am committed to help making this happen. As always, my number and email are on the right side of the page so feel free to contact me if you would like to discuss this or any other issue.