Working the community peace officer beat 0
For community peace officers-Vincent Duguay and Sergeant Stephen Zerr-currently working in the municipality of Crowsnest Pass, education and safety are paired alongside a crucial relationship with the RCMP and members of the public.
CPO Vincent Duguay-who worked as a peace officer in Cold Lake for two years-let this Promoter reporter learn the ins and outs of the peace officer program during a September 5 ride-along.
First and foremost, Duguay-on term position--stressed the importance of the relationship between peace officers and local RCMP members.
"Most of the time is spent out on the roads," he said. "(It's about) making sure we're enforcing provincial laws to compliment the RCMP. We work hand-in-hand and that's where the program excels."
The peace officer program in the Crowsnest Pass has generated many different opinions throughout the last few weeks, but Duguay said the safety of the municipality is of the utmost importance and providing effective customer service.
"I like to see people slowing down and I like to see a safe community," he said. "That's exactly what we're here for. When people know that we're around the neighborhoods it reminds them to slow down and abide by the rules, which makes our streets safer."
Duguay said education and redirection is a crucial process for members of the peace officer program when dealing with infractions.
"When we get a complaint the process is to speak with the people first and deal with the issue and relationship to a particular bylaw," Duguay said, noting most of the time infractions cease after education. "A lot of the times it is just reinforcement of the rules and regulations, which in some cases they did not know or forgot."
Duguay said many drivers with first time vehicle infractions-burnt out headlights, taillights among others-are given a warning before ticketing.
"Education is a big part of our job," Duguay said. "It would be a little bit unfair to go about and start laying these fines that people didn't even know existed."
Already, community peace officers have seen people reduce their speeds and have been thanked for the work they do protecting the municipality.
As both reporter and CPO turned onto Highway 3, Duguay said no two traffic stops are ever the same and explained the cautionary measures he has to employ when approaching an unknown vehicle.
"Sometimes the public is a little skeptical because they believe that we act as if we believe they're a criminal," he said. "That's not the case. As an officer, when I'm stopping a vehicle, I don't know who is inside. Neither do I know what they're carrying or if there are any firearms."
Duguay said he loves working with the public and said sometimes there are good surprises roadside too-including some who make him laugh and give him the drive to come to work.
He said peace officers are able to enforce all municipal bylaws as well as selected provincial statutes. However, criminal code matters require the assistance of the local RCMP.
After conducting a traffic stop-driver speeding through Coleman at 83 km/h-Duguay explained his upfront approach instead of having people guess why they were stopped.
Full fines, reduced fines or a warning are dependant on the number of infractions as well as attitude, Duguay noted. He said officers rely heavily on the public for tips as well as bylaw complaints and appreciate calls.
Having been in the Crowsnest Pass since Rum Runner Days, CPO Sergeant Stephen Zerr said he has enjoyed being able to live and work in a welcoming community.
Not only has Zerr worked as a peace officer for Alberta Health Services (AHS) in Cold Lake, but also within protective services for the University of Alberta and canine security in Edmonton.
He noted the fact there are people who hold misconceptions about the peace officer program within the municipality-most of which are based on over ticketing local residents.
"In the month and a half I've been here and the 150 tickets we have written, I can honestly say that maybe five of those are locals," he said.
While education and redirection comes first, Zerr noted there comes a point when provincial tickets have to be issued.
"To have an education program is essential, but at the same time, you can't be educating the same person a million times because they're just not getting the point," he said.
Once the locals begin to slow down, Zerr said tourists and people traveling through the Crowsnest Pass will begin to notice that Pass residents are trying to follow posted speeds.
For Zerr and Duguay, the word community has been one of the most important aspects of their job titles. Zerr noted their MDM office has an open door policy and members are more than willing to explain things if citizens voice or have concerns.
"We're not out there looking to hammer you every day," he said. "We're out there educating and redirecting."
Zerr said one of the biggest misconceptions comes when people believe officers are out on patrol looking for mud flaps or window tint concerns.
Although there are regulations addressesing these areas, speeding, failing to wear seatbelts or distracted driving are the top things Zerr and Duguay are actively looking for when out on random patrols.
"If people have questions, there's definitely no problem giving us a call, stopping in, saying hi and having a coffee with us," he said.
According to Albert Headrick, Director of Protective and Community Services, the CPO program has been in place in the Crowsnest Pass since 2007-with special constables working in the municipality since the mid 1980s.
Headrick made it clear that the CPO program has been enhanced due to the recommendation of a consulting firm and that it is not a new program.
"Since the hiring of our additional sergeant and the term position, we have dealt with the back log and are progressing well," Headrick said. "Our enhancement with the RCMP has also increased in relation to conducting and assisting with joint activities"
Concerns have been raised in the community regarding the price of the enhanced CPO program and Headrick said there are costs associated with all municipal programs.
"I would say within a year to two with hard work and an established safety management strategy, we could experience or be very close to self sufficiency " he said, referring to revenue generation which would offset the operational component.
Each of the officer's vehicles cost $33,600, which was tenured at the same time as the public works vehicles-saving money through joint purchasing in the process.
Vehicles then have to be outfitted to proper provincial specifications and the additional resources and equipment acquired is necessary to perform the responsibilities of the CPO program.
Headrick said over the past few months, he has received many positive comments about the CPO officers and the program as compared to only a few negative ones.
"They're compassionate about what they do and they provide the redirection and education that's required for the well being of our community," he said.
The meet-and-greet educational sessions will be advertized and held later this September. Headrick said both himself as well as the officers encourage community members to take advantage of the open houses.
As well community peace officers will be doing foot patrols this month within the community. If wish to speak to one of the CPOs about a complaint, please contact the municipal office and the message will be passed on to the CPO office for attention.