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Weekly missed calls due to vacant CPO position

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Hinton’s third Community Peace Officer (CPO) position remains vacant since June 2020 when it was vacated and will remain vacant pending a decision in the 2021 budget.

This reduced the number of CPOs from three full-time positions to two full-time positions.

To adapt to the CPO vacancy, changes to the level of service, including hours, and reduction in proactive enforcement have taken place. 

Only emergency calls are responded to outside of work hours, stated the Bylaw and Community Peace Officer High Level Service Review Report that was presented to council at the standing committee meeting on Aug. 25.

“This is actually a good opportunity, this could somewhat be treated as a bit of a pilot project to see what our community looks like with two CPO’s on a permanent full time basis. It’s going to give a lot of good relevant background information to council during the 2021 budget discussions if the third CPO position again comes back to us as a highly prioritized item in the budget,” stated Coun. Albert Ostashek.

With only two CPO’s since the end of June, there have been approximately 15 calls per week that could not be immediately responded to as there was no officer on duty. The files get delayed until the next officer is on duty. 

Service level complaints have been received from the public due to the reduction in service.

Protective services manager, Todd Martens, added that they have received roughly five complaints per week about the lower service levels and questions about why certain services aren’t available anymore.

“Nobody can come out and deal with anything on the weekend as well as past 8 pm in the evening,” Martens said about the change of hours with two CPO’s.

Calls for CPO services have increased from 593 in all of 2015 to 2090 in 2020 so far, and last year, there were 2209 calls for service.

Proactive policing and residential patrols have been significantly reduced relying on a complaint-based model rather than a proactive enforcement model. Once the school year begins, the school zone patrols will continue to take place. 

Staffing at this level and the changes to scheduling has removed assistance to public complaints on weekends and evenings, which has resulted in a backlog of work at the beginning of each week. 

The report stated that it is often difficult to follow up on bylaw files, delivering notices, and making contact that cannot be done during regular Monday to Friday office hours when residents are often working.

To manage sick time, vacation, and training, at times over the last two months there have been one, or no CPO on duty. 

Calls for assistance are transferred to the RCMP or complaints followed up on once a CPO is available or on shift.

Collaborative partnerships and working relationships with certain services may also be reduced as needed, including Emergency Management Services (EMS), Automated Traffic Enforcement (ATE),Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), Alberta Parks, Fish and Wildlife, Department of Transportation, Sheriffs, and CN police.

“This marks a notable change in service, and one that will be communicated to the public should this vacancy be determined to be permanent through the budget process for 2021,” stated the report.

The Hinton Protective Services department has grown and evolved as the needs of Hinton have changed, stated the report.

The most recent data from 2016, showed Hinton with a stable population of 9,882 and a land area of 33.52 square kilometres and eight patrol zones in the community.

Currently the department has two vehicles for Peace Officers and these vehicles also are used for animal control.

The primary role of the CPO is the ongoing management of the Town of Hinton Municipal Bylaws, but there are numerous other tasks they are responsible for.

The two CPO’s work hours have been revised to morning shifts starting at 7:30 am until 3:30  pm and afternoon shifts starting at 12 pm until 8 pm every Monday to Friday.

This item will come back during the 2021 budget discussions.