British Columbia

Saanich is latest B.C. municipality to hire civilians for low-risk policing tasks

The Saanich Police Department in Greater Victoria is hiring four people to take on low-risk duties that often fall to police, including after-hours bylaw enforcement and delivering subpoenas.

Community safety officers are not sworn police officers, but can act on their behalf in some instances

Police headquarters in Saanich, B.C. The community safety officers will free up police to do other work, says Staff Sgt. Drew Robertson, and will also be more cost effective. (Kathryn Marlow/CBC)

Police officers in the Greater Victoria municipality of Saanich, B.C., will soon have some extra help. The police department is in the process of hiring four community safety officers, to take on some of the lower risk duties often left to police. 

Community safety officers are not fully trained police officers, and cannot make arrests or traffic stops, or carry firearms or stun guns. They will receive five weeks of in-house training, and will carry pepper spray and batons. They will not wear the same uniform, or drive the same vehicles, as police officers.  

Examples of duties include delivering documents such as subpoenas, responding to after-hours bylaw and animal control calls, and conducting preliminary investigations to determine if police need to attend certain scenes.

"There's a lot of those sort of odd calls for service where maybe there's a cable hanging down because the branches pushed on it and it ends up being like a cable TV line," says Staff Sgt. Drew Robertson.

In some situations, community safety officers could assist in crime scene security. (CBC News)

"So it's not a hazard, but somebody needs to go and look at that and then figure out what service provider needs to come clean that up."

Roberston, who is heading up the program, says the municipality is growing, and so are calls for police help. He says the community safety officers will free up police to do other work, and will also be more cost effective as their salaries will be lower.

Tiered policing

Rylan Simpson, an associate professor in the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, says this is an example of a growing trend of "tiered policing" — where departments divvy up duties and assign them to different tiers of staff, with different training and levels of pay. 

"Police are having to do the same, if not more, work, with fewer resources, and that's required some agencies to be a bit creative in how they can ensure that they're still able to effectively deliver service," says Simpson. 

Simpson says the idea of community safety officers makes sense, but departments need to make sure they are adequately trained, and be cautious of the scope of the duties that are assigned to them. 

Policing public space

Meenakshi Mannoe, with the Pivot Legal Society, says this might seem like a good idea on paper, but it's just another reminder that too many responsibilities — and the related funding — land in police hands. 

She says she fears these officers could be used to police who gets to use public space. For example, police and bylaw officers across the province have been relied on to manage homeless camps.

"I don't think it's appropriate that we're using anyone employed by the police force to respond to these bylaw complaints, when we could actually do the one thing that will stop people from living in public space, which is building adequate housing."

She says it's another reminder that investments should be made in communities, in areas like housing and mental health. 

Delta Police is also about to start using community safety officers. The Vancouver Police Department already does. 

Saanich hopes to have its new officers on the job by March 2022. 

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