How much risk is too much for Fort Smith’s bylaw officer?
Fort Smith’s senior administrator worries the town’s bylaw officer may find themselves in riskier situations than their training warrants.
During a council meeting last month, the town’s municipal enforcement officer was thanked by police for his help. RCMP Sgt Geoffrey Peters said the officer was “a very hard worker,” according to minutes of that meeting published by the town.
Peters told councillors the bylaw officer – an employee of the town, not the police – had been involved in two significant traffic stops. In one, criminal charges were laid. In another, a licence was suspended.
That prompted town senior administrator Keith Morrison to remind councillors that bylaw enforcement is different to enforcement of Canada’s Criminal Code or the NWT’s Motor Vehicles Act.
Bylaw officers don’t have the same training, protective equipment, or support that police officers can access, Morrison said.
“He is not expected to enforce rules and regulations that would solicit a violent response,” the minutes report Morrison said of the bylaw officer.
Morrison said bylaw officers historically never had to conduct traffic enforcement in Fort Smith, only increasing their involvement recently in response to what he termed “a lack of Motor Vehicles Act enforcement within the community by the RCMP.”
Peters, responding, said police check stops “will be increasing again.” The RCMP detachment commander said there would have been more such check stops, according to the minutes, but “mosquitoes in the summer hindered this.”
Morrison said his concern stems from the town’s desire for the bylaw officer not to “present an aggressive image,” but instead to enforce the town’s bylaws through a combination of warnings and small fines.
The minutes state Morrison “noted that the level of enforcement bylaw officers conduct reflects the fact that they are often longtime residents of the community, unlike the RCMP, who tend to only spend two or three years in a community.”
While Morrison is concerned that working with police means enforcing federal legislation and potentially placing the bylaw officer at higher risk by association, Peters said the bylaw officer is from the community and has “some insight regarding who he may be stopping.”
Peters said RCMP treat every traffic stop as high-risk. Unable to immediately answer Morrison’s questions about the possibility of increased risk to the bylaw officer, Peters suggested he and Morrison discuss the issue further outside the council meeting.