Province grants greater control to municipalities for law enforcement
Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen made a special announcement in Portage la Prairie this week, highlighting significant amendments recently made to the Police Services Act which will provide a wider range of options for rural and urban municipalities to address crime in their communities.
As of June 1, municipally appointed community safety officers (CSOs) will be granted greater authority over low-risk law enforcement.
“Crime is a concern across Manitoba and there are unique challenges in rural Manitoba, particularly when it comes to the staffing of policing positions,” said Goertzen. “Local municipalities need more options and more control to improve community safety. Municipalities have long asked for the ability to have community safety officers enforce additional provincial laws.”
Goertzen calls it a layered approach to law enforcement, giving municipalities more flexibility in addressing their own specific needs while still receiving services from the local police authority.
He admits to recruitment challenges that the government is having in filling RCMP vacancies across the country.
“We’ve been working at how to have layered policing options so that municipalities can find a way to have other types of enforcement and relieve some of the pressure off the RCMP,” said Goertzen.
Additionally, he adds, the province is working together with the Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) to determine whether CSOs can be implemented across larger regions.
AMM president Kam Blight also addressed those gathered, indicating that almost every municipal council across the province has shared concerns over the lack of RCMP visibility in their communities as of late.
Partly at fault, he says, is the administrative duties RCMP officers are responsible for as well as the significant amount of time they must spend in court dealing with offenders.
“CSOs can handle less significant incidents that often take up significant police resources and time,” Blight said. “The AMM has been urging the provincial government for more than 10 years to grant local councils the authority to enforce specific sections of the highway traffic act with the aim of safeguarding municipal infrastructure.”
According to the Police Services Act, a CSO must be appointed by council and have prescribed training in crime prevention and public safety.
Working in collaboration with the local policing authority, they must work at implementing crime prevention strategies and initiatives, connect persons in need with the appropriate social service providers and maintain a visible presence within the community.
While the new legislation announced by Goertzen could go a long way to addressing RCMP officer shortages, it offers nothing by way of additional funding supports for municipalities that want to create a local CSO program.
To address the matter of cost assistance, Goertzen proposed another strategy that would require the cooperation of the federal government.
Working together with Municipal Relations Minister Andrew Smith, Goertzen says he has been pressing the federal government to take responsibility for the backpay they promised to the RCMP union and take the pressure to do so off municipal taxpayers.
“We appreciate and value the work of the RCMP in Manitoba,” said Goertzen. “However, municipalities were not consulted nor were they involved in the negotiation of the backpay that the federal government negotiated in the RCMP contract. Simply handing the bill to municipalities isn’t good enough and will significantly impact local municipalities and their residents.”
Blight concurred, stating that policing and public safety already exceeds 20 percent of fiscal spending in many municipalities. This figure will go up, he says, with the backpay promise made to the RCMP union by the federal government.
“With some municipalities across Manitoba, it’s $5.1 million that they’re going to have to absorb,” Blight said. “In some cases, that’s a five to ten percent tax increase just to cover the retroactive costs [of RCMP services]. Never mind the cost going forward for the increased salary to these RCMP officers.”
Brenda Sawatzky, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Niverville Citizen