Kamloops director says report coming to council regarding peace officer status for CSOs

Peace officer status ahead

The City of Kamloops’ director of protective services says a report will be coming to council that will start to lay the municipal groundwork for Community Service Officers obtaining peace officer status.

During a meeting in Victoria on Monday, May 13, several Kamloops councillors and the city’s acting CAO discussed securing peace officer status for CSOs with provincial ministers — who indicated the necessary legislative changes were close at hand.

Ken Uzeloc, who is also the city’s fire chief, said he wasn’t sure if changes to the B.C. Police Act will happen before the upcoming provincial election, but the city is proceeding with the internal steps needed for such a transition to take place.

“We need council to approve that we want to go that direction,” Uzeloc said, adding staff will work to prepare bylaw amendments after receiving council's approval.

“We haven't started any of that specific work or training because we don't know where they want us to go yet — that’ll be coming forward to council in the next month, we'll be bringing the report forward for their approval, and then if they approve, we will then bring the bylaw forward.”

Coun. Katie Neustaeter joined City of Kamloops’ acting CAO Byron McCorkell, and councillors Bill Sarai, Dale Bass and Kelly Hall to meet with B.C.'s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth and Attorney General Niki Sharma.

“It felt like a really productive meeting. This is something that's a key piece to creating greater safety and security within Kamloops, so we continue to pursue it at every opportunity and create those opportunities as well,” Neustaeter told Castanet Kamloops.

“What we heard from the minister is that significant changes to the Police Act that have been expected for quite some time are within grasp — and a part of that will be peace officer status for CSOs.”

Neustaeter said she believes providing peace officer status to CSOs will allow them to more effectively address challenges on the streets stemming from drug use, as well as vandalism and crime plaguing businesses.

Uzeloc said there’s different tiers of peace officers, and the city is looking for the lowest tier. Officers won’t carry firearms, but they may be able to carry pepper spray.

He said at the lowest-level tier, an officer will be able to legally ask people for identification, be able to use force if necessary, execute bylaw-related search warrants and be able to detain people for the RCMP.

He said having peace officer status would allow CSOs greater protections.

“Under the Criminal Code, if you assault a peace officer, it's a much more serious charge,” Uzeloc said.

Urged to consider risks

After receiving a report about minister meetings during Tuesday’s council meeting, Coun. Nancy Bepple said she understood it’s the will of council as a whole to move towards obtaining peace officer status for CSOs, but she held some reservations.

“We cannot police ourselves out of social issues,” Bepple said.

Bepple noted there is a disproportionate amount of Indigenous people represented in the justice system, but also within the city’s homeless population — making up 12 per cent of the overall community but about 50 per cent of the unhoused.

She said the Independent Investigation Office investigates use of force and death involving police officers, but that wouldn’t be the case with CSOs.

“We need to think about that there are risks — and there's also, I would say, a need to make sure the people affected have voices in the process,” Bepple said.

“There's a saying, ‘nothing for us without us.’ And a really good example in our community would be Indigenous people, and having them at the table to decide how we might use CSOs as peace officers.”

When asked to address Bepple’s concerns — which Coun. Dale Bass said she also shares — Neustaeter said any forthcoming changes will be implemented with “a lot of thought,” with partners at the table and in conjunction with other initiatives like a situation table or a community court.

“This is one more tool in the tool chest of a really thoughtfully coordinated program,” she said.

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