Officers 'enthusiastic' about added responsibility with Sask. rural crime team: deputy minister

The Saskatchewan government is expanding the powers of conservation officers and commercial vehicle enforcement officers, and so far, it seems officers are enthusiastic about the added responsibility.

Commercial vehicle enforcement officers will now carry guns, have power to detain and arrest

Dale McFee, the deputy minister responsible for corrections and policing, said that initial feedback from officers about the rural crime response team has been positive. (Mike Zartler/CBC)

The Saskatchewan deputy minister responsible for corrections and policing says conservation and commercial vehicle enforcement officers seem to be enthusiastic about their expanded powers and responsibilities, announced earlier this week.

The province announced it will launch a protection and response team made up of 120 RCMP and municipal police officers, 98 provincial conservation officers and 40 commercial vehicle enforcement officers (CVEOs) with the province's Ministry of Highways.

The change will have all officers on the team carrying guns.

The move is part of the province's decision to create a rural crime response team, stemming from recommendations made by a committee earlier this year.

It's all part of an effort to improve police response times to emergency calls for service and police visibility in rural areas, and increase road safety and drug enforcement on provincial roads and highways.

The idea has drawn criticism from the Opposition NDP and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations.

But Ministry of Justice Deputy Minister Dale McFee said the first working team meeting was held Thursday to discuss the program's rollout, and initial feedback about the added responsibility for the officers was positive.

"I know there is desire in most cases to move in this direction. What I heard in yesterday's meeting was very enthusiastic," McFee said Friday.

All members of the team will be armed and have the power to detain and arrest people. Conservation officers already carry sidearms and have the authority to detain people until police arrive, but the vehicle enforcement officers do not currently carry guns.

The change for CVEOs will require additional firearms screening and training.

McFee said added training for the officers will begin right away.

"I think everyone clearly knows we're not jumping into it without the appropriate training," said McFee.

"It's about training them properly so we're not putting the officers safety in jeopardy."

The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union said the minimal feedback it's gotten so far from membership has been positive, and the union will be meeting with the province to discuss how the changes will affect its members.