AUTHORIZING THE USE OF PEACE OFFICERS TO COMPLEMENT THE WORK OF POLICE AS PART OF A TIERED RESPONSE (2023)
Understaffed Police Service detachments and growing street safety issues focused on mental health issues, public drug use and homelessness has meant a growing reliance on Bylaw Enforcement Officers (BEOs) throughout British Columbia. In B.C., it is well established that bylaw officers are peace officers as defined in section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada when acting in the course of their duties , and has been confirmed and upheld in multiple court decisions. Public safety challenges have grown as local governments across the province utilize a blend of business improvement associations, BEOs, police, and municipality-specific mental health practitioners. The nature of some of the issues and calls for enforcement fall short of requiring police services yet are currently beyond a BEOs authority to resolve until such time as the British Columbia Police Act is amended to provide BEOs with Special Constable status which would allow local governments the ability to provide more immediate, affordable, and effective ways to improve community safety while simultaneously limiting local governments’ exposure to civil liability.
In B.C., BEOs are recognized as peace officers (technically, so are mayors and aircraft pilots). However, different local governments may place different restrictions and parameters on BEOs’ day-to-day jobs. Alberta developed a model which has been examined and recommended for adoption across several western provinces, including Saskatchewan and B.C.
In B.C., LIBOA – The Licence Inspectors’ and Bylaw Officers’ Association – has called for changes to the Police Act. The recommended changes, if implemented, would bring B.C. into alignment with Alberta and other province’s tiered policing models. These models allow for an alternative public safety service deliveries that addresses efficiency, effectiveness, and costs, while enhancing livability and the quality of life of British Columbians. Peace officers add an option to law enforcement in Alberta by providing a continuum of personnel with varied levels of training and authority.
There is concern that the three-year federal pilot project commenced in 2023 decriminalizing the possession and consumption of small amounts of hard drugs will lead to both sale and consumption ‘on the street’ rather than in private settings. Under this project, public consumption is now permitted unless a local government passes a bylaw restricting consumption in public spaces, and for those local governments who enact a bylaw, it is anticipated that BEOs will be faced with handling this issue without adequate tools to deal with non-compliance.
Implementation of a tiered law enforcement model would allow for the utilization of appropriately trained local government staff to enforce municipal bylaws and select provincial legislation. Doing so recognizes that many enforcement roles, such as regulatory compliance, do not require highly trained police officers. The use of Special Constables for these roles enables police officers to remain focused on more complex and serious criminal enforcement activities. Furthermore, their duties could vary in nature and scope depending on the unique needs and priorities of the communities they serve.
In Saskatchewan, the Community Safety Officer (CSO) program has helped meet their public safety needs including traffic and liquor enforcement, bylaw enforcement, and serve as crime prevention community liaisons. CSOs free up the RCMP and municipal police services to focus on higher impact needs in participating communities, significantly benefitting the public safety of their communities. And in Manitoba, implementing crime prevention strategies and initiatives, connecting social service providers with persons in need, and maintaining a visible presence within the community, are seen as key to better utilization of BEOs .
Behind the drive for change is local government; pressured by the public to increase public safety and enforce regulations but unable to expand local spending on increased police services. The inability by local governments and their BEOs to address public safety issues places a significant and ongoing strain on police resources. At the same time, police are being tasked to do more with less and are facing overtime costs due to call volume amid chronic staffing shortages.
In Canada, the cost of policing has risen faster than the rate of inflation for the past 20 years, even as the crime rate has dropped significantly. There is a broad consensus emerging among all levels of government that police services are pricing themselves out of business.
THE CHAMBER RECOMMENDS
That the Provincial Government:
- Improve public safety response time to emergency calls and reduce policing operating costs by broadening the responsibilities and authority of BEOs – Bylaw Enforcement Officers – in local governments throughout B.C. by adopting a supplementary law enforcement model similar to Alberta’s.
- Create a law enforcement program of standards, qualifications, accountability, and compliance for officers employed for the provincial government and local governments.
- Align the police response model in B.C. with Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in order to provide local governments with a cost-efficient alternative to police officers to deal with low-risk issues.
- Amend provincial legislation to allow local governments the ability to designate some or all of their BEO’s as “Special Constables” provided they have received the appropriate training and qualifications to satisfy the responsibilities of such a designation.