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Athabasca County council says no to enhanced CPO powers

Provincial exemption would allow peace officer more authority in more places

ATHABASCA – A possible exemption, offered by the province to municipalities, that would allow community peace officers’ duties to be expanded, did not sit well with Athabasca County council, which declined the opportunity.

Councillors discussed the potential changes to the CPO’s job description at their Nov. 12 policy review committee meeting that would authorize the county CPO to conduct traffic enforcement on one, and two-digit primary highways, within their jurisdiction, regardless of speed limit; and one-, two- and three-digit highways, within their jurisdiction, in active construction zones to address safety issues arising from speeding.

Without the exemption, current Peace Officer Program Policy and Procedures Manual limits CPO authority to enforce the Traffic Safety Act on one-, and two-digit primary highways to "within their urban boundaries of their municipality and the speed limit is 90 km/h or less.”

“My initial reaction is that he’s busy enough as it is, and I almost see this as a little bit of downloading again from the province,” said Coun. Christi Bilsky. “Now they’re going to get our paid people to do their work for them and it really makes me angry, but maybe I’m reading it wrong.”

Coun. Dwayne Rawson, a former RCMP Sgt., said that when he worked in Westlock, the fines collected from infractions on county roads by the peace officer went back to the county while fines on the highways went to the province.

“If we’re getting the revenue from the fines on single- and double-digit highways, I’m all over it, but if it’s going back to the province, no,” he said.

Reeve Larry Armfelt had one word in response to the proposal — “downloading.”

Coun. Doris Splane agreed, as did the whole of council.

“It is downloading, under the guise of giving us more freedom,” said county manager Ryan Maier. “The province is saying ‘We’re giving you municipalities more authority to enforce on single-digit highways,’ so they’re selling it as a positive, but it’s absolutely downloading.”

Coun. Warren Griffin wanted to know if there were any offenses other than speeding that would be in the interests of county residents to have enforced by an enhanced peace officer.

“I’m coming up with a blank … but this is downloading, and if we can opt out, I would opt out,” said Griffin.

Rawson said stop sign violations may be a concern, but again asked where the fine revenue was going — it was a question Maier was unable to answer.

He did express concerns that enhanced duties may put the CPO in dangerous situations for which they are unprepared though, and that they would have to attend regular court dates for violations, which would take him off the roads altogether.

Coun. Travais Johnson also noted that, if the policy was approved by council, and considering all the changes to policing in the last year and the increased enforcement already occurring on the highways “our residents are going to come unglued, I can tell you that.”

“We don’t have the manpower,” said Coun. Dennis Willcott. “I’m not for it at all. We’re going to tie up our man out there and he’ll have to go to court, so let’s just say no and turn it down, done deal.”