Breaking News

Council holds on to vacant CPO position

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

A recommendation was made by council during the standing committee meeting on July 21 that the vacant third Community Peace Officer Level 1 (CPO1) position be held pending a decision in the 2021 budget.

In the meantime, a high level service discussion regarding bylaw and the town CPO positions will be held at the standing committee meeting on Aug. 18, 2020.

Cutting the third CPO position would mean reducing the service level and communicating that to the community, explained CAO Emily Olsen.

Mayor Marcel Michaels noted the upcoming discussion is an opportunity for council to make service level decisions to avoid staff burnout.

“Let’s hash out what two or three CPO’s look like and how it’s going to affect us in 2021 to make a good decision in November and December for the budget,” said Michaels.

Hinton’s third CPO gave notice of resignation on July 27, 2020 and the Town initially began preparations to fill the vacancy to maintain service levels.

Due to the CPO’s involvement with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cancellation of vacations for essential services, the CPO’s have been working throughout 2020 with minimal breaks. Administration expects this summer to be busy for the CPO’s and hoped to fill the position quickly.

Council identified the vacancy as an opportunity to review the need for the third position and the services levels offered by this Department. 

With only two CPO’s since June, there have been approximately 15 calls per week that could not be immediately responded to as there was no officer on duty, stated Todd Martens, protective services manager.

Those missed files get pushed until the next officer is on duty and puts more pressure on the two officers who are then playing catch up, Martens added.

Without the additional position, the two officers face an extra workload and burnout, explained Nikiea Hope, human resources manager.

“I’ve heard from some citizens, ‘why do we have three [CPO’s]’, but I’ve also heard from a lot more people saying bylaw is not available, and it takes a long time. I’ve seen or heard very little about that since we got the third person,” said Coun. Trevor Haas.

Council approved the addition of a third CPO in the summer of 2019.

Administration stated a reduction of hours would not decrease the number of calls but increase the wait time for a response and add to citizen frustration.

A decrease would also mean that Bylaw enforcement and associated revenue would decrease, and problems associated with reduced manpower due to vacation, illness, or the recruitment and training processes would not be addressed.

Martens added that cutting the position would mean the two officers would cover all services unless council specifies areas they would like to see cut.

This means no coverage on weekends and evenings, unless there is specific direction of services for two positions.

Thirty-five per cent to 40 per cent of a CPO’s wage is estimated in an average year to be recouped through fines and a reduction of overtime, call-out, and stand-by costs, stated administration’s report.

Fine revenue has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic while the number of calls and the required enforcement increased through this event.

In 2019, bylaw received 2209 calls, while in 2020 as of July 1 the town has received 2090 with a potential to double the calls from last year.

Coun. Tyler Waugh stated he was against adding the third position one year ago without a better understanding of service level impacts, but does not want to see a decrease back to two without that service level understanding. 

He questioned if it was possible to have a one year contracted third CPO1 to allow for a service level discussion and then transition down to two positions without putting current staff at risk.

Hope noted that officers must go through training that is only offered during certain times.

With no guarantee to get someone in the training or relocate officers to Hinton for only one year this might not be a viable or sustainable option.

During the meeting, Olsen noted there was an unexpectedly deep candidate pool from which to find a suitable replacement.

Michaels stated that this is due to a lot of people looking for jobs right now and that it might be an opportunity to attract a contracted position.

A direction to fill the vacant position on a 12-month contract with the expectation that the town return to two officers once the contract expires was voted down with five against two votes.

Without knowing what is in store in 2021, Coun. Dewly Nelson stated he was more comfortable eliminating a position without anyone in it rather than removing it when someone is in it for several months. 

“This puts us back to probably ground zero where we should have been when we made the decision the first time, and we now have opportunity knowing what we learned last year that making the decision when we did probably wasn’t the best at the time in hindsight,” Nelson said.

Administration noted most CPO’s prefer the capital region, where employment opportunities are greater, wages are higher, and relocation may not be required for job changes. 

Historically, the Town hired candidates and sent them to Alberta Justice and Solicitor General Community Peace Officer Induction Program.

This impacts service levels, but increases retention when the department hires local candidates and provides training.

After Hinton’s Bylaw Officer retired in 2014, Hinton hired a CPO1 at the same pay scale. 

Town Bylaw Officers only enforce Municipal Bylaws, whereas a CPO enforces the Municipal and Provincial Bylaws as well as acts and can assist RCMP. 

However, additional training is required.

Due to high community demand, in 2015, the Town went from one CPO1 to two.

That year, they responded to 509 calls for service, while in 2018, they responded to 2,183 calls for service.

This was in part due to changes in legislation as the CPO1 enforces 10 provincial Acts and 14 Bylaws.

Of the CPO’s workload, 66 per cent pertains to Bylaw enforcement, and Animal Control Bylaw accounts for 36 per cent of the service calls received.

If peace officers weren’t available, RCMP officers filled in and dealt with bylaw issues where they could, Martens explained.

Between the two CPO’s, each employee was on-call 50 per cent of the year.

An Organizational Efficiency and Effectiveness Review in 2018 identified that the Protective Services Department was experiencing resourcing and capacity issues due to imposed increases in service levels, increasing citizen expectations, new safety and training requirements, and new Bylaws requiring enforcement.

A third CPO1 position was created to meet the community needs and to address internal demands in 2019.