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Three-man officer system on the table for Magrath

Posted on January 20, 2014 by Westwind Weekly

When concerns about police presence, school zones and other visibility issues came to  a head in several Westwind communities, Raymond, Magrath, Stirling and the County of Warner, the municipalities banded together to form the Joint Public Safety Committee.

Designed to focus on ways municipalities can have more effect, from an enforcement standpoint, the group was also approached and aided by Alberta Traffics Safety Consultant Kevin Brandvold.

“He was very instrumental in helping us put all of this together,” said chair of the Joint Public Safety Committee Cathy Needham. “Initially we started out with a grant in the communities of Raymond, Magrath and Stirling to make (peace officers) a viable option in these communities.”

Having been the chair since the group’s beginning, Needham has seen the project go from an idea on paper, to a reality in four communities and maybe soon to be five.

“About seven years ago, four communities decided to have mayor’s meetings. Those meetings started a lot of discussions, and a lot of that was how can we effectively provide services for each of our communities,” said chief administrative officer Scott Barton of the groups beginning.

“The communities did come together and they did form a committee. Initially it was mainly focussed on traffic enforcement but last March there was a critical time where there wasn’t a lot of satisfaction (with policing). The (communities) felt that the whole scope of municipal enforcement wasn’t being looked at.”

The communities then developed a business plan, identifying objectives of the service to be provided. The first was municipal bylaw enforcement, another was coordinating with groups like the RCMP and CAO’s in each municipality, but the strongest focus was placed on provincial statute enforcement – things like traffic safety.

“We are very confident with Rod Tilsson who is our peace officer sergeant. He is a former Lethbridge city police officer and served with the town of Coaldale, he brings a wealth of knowledge that is very rewarding,” said Barton of one of the two new peace officers.

Each community part of the committee has been tasked with deciding where they would like the level of focus to be and what it will be on now that two officers have been secured.

They also proposed a three-man officer model, which would bump the coverage in Raymond from 1,055 to 2,080 and Magrath’s coverage from 660 hours to 1,040.

Raymond and the County of Warner have already decided to move forward with the three-man model, Stirling however has decided a two-man model will suit their current needs and will have a coverage of 416 hours in a year.

“Two officers going to look at doing both municipal bylaws and provincial statute enforcement would be $32,000, which is approximately 832 hours of service in the year for the community of Magrath,” Barton said of the two-man model in Magrath. “While interviewing candidates for the peace officer position the County of Warner decided they wanted to be a part of this program so we added them. In those discussions they said it might be a good time to go to a three-man model if the county comes on.”

The three-man model would jump the cost of service in Magrath from approximately $32,000 to $46,000. An expense Raymond sees as viable within the community at the cost of $95,051.

Although the two-man model provides “pretty good coverage,” the optimum number of officers would be six, said Barton, who added with six officer 24/7 coverage would be possible.

“It’s been working out very well in the communities and in the county, they are very happy and we want to do that with Magrath and Stirling as well and make sure that your immediate needs are being addressed,” said Barton. “We are very much of the opinion it will allow you guys to make the choice of service level you feel is appropriate for Magrath. What is nice, moving forward, is that it covers the whole scope.”

From development issues to parking trailers on the street, the peace officers will be able to field resident complaints of all scopes and can write provincial statute tickets as well, which go through the court system.

The business plan also shows revenue from ticket issuance. Anticipated fine revenues will be pooled between the communities of Raymond, Magrath and the County of Warner and then divvied out accordingly.

“We will look at other opportunities to expand our services as well. We had a brief discussion with Cardston County joining and they have expressed interest in that,” said Barton.

“We may even be able to look at this model instead of what it will cost to keep the RCMP, eventually. It would cost significantly less under this model,” said Needham of a possible topic for discussion in the future.

There were minimal concerns expressed in relation to the duplication of some RCMP services, but Barton reassured the Magrath councilors it would only enhance their services because they would be less distracted with municipal concerns and could instead focus on provincial and federal crime matters.

“We found when we paid for policing services we didn’t have any more say than we do now and they had federal priorities they pursued,” Barton explained.

“Now they can deal with the more tasking issues like the impaired driving and the drugs – the criminal activity. That’s where we pick up the slack and do some traffic enforcement which allows the RCMP to give better delivery of law enforcement and we will look after all of your bylaws,” said Tilsson.

Magrath council voted to give their support to the committee, and will advise them as to the desired service level in two weeks.

If Cardston County decides to join, the group will move to a four-man system and will be looking at crunching numbers all over again.

For more information on the Joint Public Safety Committee please visit http://www.raymond.ca to view the committee minutes, or email Coun. Cathy Needham at needham@raymond.ca.

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