BARRHEAD – The number of investigations or files started by the community peace officers (CPO) in the County of Barrhead is trending downward.
In 2019, CPOs opened 95 files, while in 2020 and 2021, the number dropped to 63 and 54, respectively.
However, county manager Debbie Oyarzun told councillors at their Jan. 18 meeting not all of those files necessarily ended with citations.
Speeding and other traffic offences topped the number of tickets CPOs handed out.
In 2019, Lac Ste. Anne County CPOs issued 44 speeding tickets compared to nine and 13 in 2020 and 2021. CPOs also issued tickets for various traffic-related offences. In 2019, 13 tickets were issued compared to only one in 2021 and nine tickets in 2021.
The county contracts its bylaw enforcement to Lac Ste. Anne County, which provides 80 hours of CPO service per month.
Lac Ste. Anne County enforcement supervisor and CPO Dallas Choma said the reason why the speeding and traffic offences have dropped in the last two years is largely due to the pandemic.
"With COVID, the numbers did drop," he said. "We were asked to limit our interaction with the public, enter from a different side of the car along with several other protocols ... and with more people being out of work, relying on subsidies, we relaxed on the ticket side of things and issued more warnings."
Dog-related offences made up the next highest category, with 12 tickets being issued in 2019 and 2020, while in 2021, CPOs issued 11 citations.
Choma said CPOs have received and are working on several unsightly property complaints that are not necessarily reflected in the numbers. In 2019 and 2020, CPOs issued six and seven citations, while in 2021, only two tickets were handed out.
"It takes a lot of our time, unsightliness does not get solved overnight," he said.
An order has to be issued, in which the complainant receives a set time (usually 30-days) to rectify the situation. If nothing is done after that time, Choma said an officer usually speaks to the complainant again.
"If that doesn't move anything forward, then we get a court order," he said, adding due to backlogs, court dates, even for speeding tickets, are now being scheduled for 2024. "The court system has failed us. We have tons of trials coming up. I don't know if my officers will be around for them because they go so far back."
However, Choma said that will be changing, at least for many traffic-related offences, including speeding in February.
As part of the government's Safe Road's initiative, the province is moving to Phase 2 of the Provincial Administrative Penalties Act and Justice Transformation Initiative, eliminating the need for traffic court.
Instead, those who protest tickets will have to argue their case to an arbitrator who will review officers’ notes before making a decision, he said.
“At the end of the arbitration, there will be a yay or nay, there will be no court time," Choma said. "That includes DUIs (driving under the influence), 24-hour suspensions and speeding over 50 kilometres an hour which used to be a mandatory court date."
From the county's point of view, Choma said nothing will change, noting municipalities will continue to receive their portion from fines, but perhaps a little bit quicker.
He also said the county is getting a little more bang for their buck, adding instead of using a portion of the county's 80 hour allotment in court, CPOs could be in the field.
Choma also noted that to appeal a ticket there is a non-refundable $50 fee which will go up depending on the fine on the ticket. For offences with fines over $300, he said the fee to fight the ticket increases to $150.
Coun. Ron Kleinfeldt asked about whether CPOs were targeting the school zone at Dunstable School (Highway 651), saying speeding no longer seems to be much of an issue.
Choma said officers still patrol the area on occasion.
"It is a good spot, with double the fines. We have caught a lot of people speeding there, and to be honest, most of them are the parents," he said.
Choma also suggested because the school is largely fenced, except the immediate area in front of the school, the county might want to investigate having Alberta Transportation increase the speed limit from 30km/h during school hours to 70 km/h during school hours.
He noted Northern Gateway School Division successfully had the speed limit increased in front of Rich Valley School on Highway 33. They asked for the increase as they felt the drastic reduction of speed was a safety issue.
Another area CPOs often targets for speeders is the 70 km/h zone on Highway 769 in Neerlandia.
"We are pretty lenient unless they are flying through there, but again the culprits are mostly residents. If council wants us to go hard, we can," Choma said.
Oyarzun clarified the county wasn't using speeding tickets as a "money grab" but were instead directing CPOs to problem areas residents were concerned about safety issues.
Choma said one area he wants to start focusing on more and is something that was brought to his attention last year — the need to protect infrastructure, i.e. roads, from overweight vehicles.
"The biggest problem we have in our counties are sewage haulers," he said. "They are the biggest cause of road damage in subdivisions."
Choma explained that many septic and sewer haulers use vehicles from the oil patch.
"They buy them for $5,000 to $6,000, insure them under their name instead of a business, and just go on the road. They are almost overweight from Day 1," he said, noting most trucks are hauling full loads, "because who is going to stop them."
Choma added this is the time to start planning what areas to target before the spring thaw when roads soften up.
Although he said Lac Ste. Anne CPOs have portable scales, to prove that a truck was overweight in court, they need to be weighed at a certified scale which are few and far between.
However, Choma said, CPOs can target other offences to dissuade companies from hauling sewage in overweight trucks.