The first nine Community Peace Officers were sworn in Wednesday at Lethbridge Police Service headquarters, and now they will begin the final portion of their training: 16 weeks in the field.
The CPOs have been granted criminal code authorities as well as the ability to execute arrests. They also enforce province statutes, including the Traffic Safety Act, the Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Act, and the Mental Health Act.
On Wednesday, they were given an additional power: the authority to enforce municipal bylaws.
“Their focus with the bylaws will be those bylaws that address a lot of the challenges downtown and that’s going to be the focus,” Lethbridge Police Chief Rob Davis said.
“When we received the funding it was for two years to show proof of concept, so their authorities will be the bylaws applicable downtown and it’s a great addition to their tool belt.”
City council approved funding for two years of the CPO program, more than $1.6 million in 2019 and $1.37 in 2020, according to the city. Council will hear a report back after the first two years before committing to additional funding.
Chief Davis — who recently announced his resignation and will be done with LPS at the end of September — said Wednesday the program was created with future officers in mind.
“This is also a trajectory to a full-time career, and so this is like the AHL to the NHL,” said Davis.
“Officers come in, show us their skills and their abilities, and then it creates a mechanism for the transition from – potentially – a Watch volunteer, to a CPO, to a full-fledged police officer. So it’s a career trajectory.”
All of the newly minted CPOs have careers in policing as their goal.
“I think I speak for everyone when I say that we came in this to be police officers,” said CPO Gerrilee Boon. “This will just be a really good growing period, learning what the streets are like and what our issues are here in Lethbridge.”
“I believe when we do become police officers, we’ll have a lot of extra knowledge and wisdom in learning how to deal with situations, based on this.”
Many are also Lethbridge natives who were motivated to apply based on recent struggles in the city, including a prevalent drug crisis.
“This is my community,” said Justin Brizinello. “It means more to me to serve my own community than a community I’m not from.”
The Lethbridge Police Association expressed concerns earlier in the week about the safety of the CPOs, who will only be armed with pepper spray and batons.
But the new officers say they feel comfortable after their nearly six months of training.
“Safety is a concern, however, we’ve gotten really, really good training here,” said Boon.
“Throughout the last five months we’ve gotten control tactics every week and they taught us a lot of really helpful tips; how to go forward in different situations… and so, based on that I feel a lot more comfortable.”
“I mean, we feel the support of the LPS members,” said Brizinello. “They have got our back, we’ve got theirs and we’re not going to be alone out there.”
The CPOs will now be paired up with LPS officers for 16 weeks of training in the field before they begin their regular duties in the downtown.