Maple Ridge’s community safety officer program could be taking a different shape next year, and depending on council’s wish there could be either more officers wearing less-police-like uniforms or the same number carrying sidearms.
“We have lots of time to figure out what service delivery suits us best – which is high visibility in the town centre,” said Ridge Meadows RCMP Supt. Dave Fluegel.
While council supports the CSO program, which allows hiring of three peace officers at about 20 per cent less than the cost of regular RCMP officer, a national RCMP review of the community safety officer program will see some changes.
“Obviously, we’d love to keep status quo, but that’s just not an option. We’re part of a national organization and I have to respect that.”
The top cop in Maple Ridge, though, wants more information before making another pitch to council, although one option is called the community program officer.
No decisions have been made by RCMP headquarters, he pointed out.
“The CPO looks fairly attractive. It’s a further cost savings than we’re getting now.”
While CPOs focus on crime prevention and community policing, without the enforcement option, in contrast to CSOs, who can arrest people because they’re actual peace officers.
However, by taking on the job of regular police without being armed, CSOs can put themselves in danger.
“There are some risks to our people. I don’t like having our people out there in compromising situations where they don’t have all the tools. And if arming them is an option, I’m all for it.”
One option is to retrain CSOs to handle firearms, after which they would become “community constables.”
But arming CSO and giving them broader powers could take away their focus on community policing in the downtown.
“Trying to get the best policing for the municipality, that’s the bottom line.”
Fluegel pointed out the CPOs used in eastern Canada didn’t wear uniforms.
But he pointed out no decisions have been made.
For example, bylaws, Westridge Security and prison guards wear a type of uniform.
“That’s something I would like to figure out before we make a decision on a chosen path.”
CSOs make about $60,000 yearly, compared to starting rate for regular RCMP officers at $82,000.
Fleugel said he’s told council about the changes and the three CSOs have also been told. “No one is losing their job.” The existing CSOs can retrain for whatever program is chosen.
At the same time, he wants what’s best for the community.
“There’s really a couple of options and it really comes down to what is the objective of what our city (district) wants.” The district like the “enhanced relationship” between businesses and the highly-visible CSOs in the downtown and the fact that the officers stayed in the area for years and focused on crime prevention rather than law enforcement.
Fluegel said the two-tier model of policing “has been very effective in England and in other parts of the world.”