Yellowknife’s new manager of municipal enforcement says to expect more of a community policing approach from the city division.
Jennifer Hunt-Poitras, who took the role in May, on Monday told city councillors the division is planning a “cultural transformation” with a focus on community engagement and education over enforcement.
“Enforcement penalties and tickets are but one tool available to MED [the municipal enforcement division] in terms of achieving compliance with bylaws,” she said, adding they remain necessary.
Changes residents can expect, Hunt-Poitras said, include an increased presence in the community and plans to develop relationships with other law enforcement agencies, social service providers, and community members.
This approach will take into account the impacts of colonization, she said, while staff will receive training on trauma-informed de-escalation techniques and how to deal with people in crisis.
This approach aims to treat people “respectfully, equally, and impartially,” she explained. She hopes it will help increase trust between officers and community members.
Hunt-Poitras noted the change comes at a time when enforcement agencies across North America are under increased scrutiny and the expectations of enforcement are changing.
Councillor Shauna Morgan praised the changes, particularly the training for officers.
“It’s really exciting to see things moving forward in such a progressive way,” she said.
Councillor Niels Konge, however, raised concerns from some residents that they are required to make complaints before bylaw officers take action on some issues. He questioned whether there were plans to move from a complaints-based system to more active enforcement.
City administrator Sheila Bassi-Kellett said limited resources mean officers are proactive on issues related to public safety, like speeding in school zones, but some issues are addressed through complaints as needed.
“It’s very challenging for MED to be everywhere at once,” she said.
Konge noted some bylaws are rarely enforced and questioned if they should be “taken off the books.”
Kerry Penney, the city’s manager of legal services, said some bylaws are difficult to enforce – such as when dog owners don’t pick up after their pet – because officers need to have evidence, which requires catching people in the act.