THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - If approved, Kamloops bylaw officers could soon be equipped with batons, pepperspray and handcuffs and while the idea may be controversial to some, it’s been the status quo in Kelowna for nearly 20 years.
Kelowna's 12 bylaw officers have been equipped with the three items since 1998.
City of Kelowna’s bylaw services manager Greg Wise once was an officer before he rose up the ranks to his position now. He says he can’t point at one specific incident that caused the city to make the change, but says it was the increased risk of potentially violent interactions with the public, the homeless and transient groups in particular, which led to the updated toolbelt.
“There was some potential definitely for some defensive tools required. We also had some scenarios within traffic that became issues as well... parking enforcement,” Wise says. “Unfortunately things escalate."
In one case a bylaw officer ticketed a car while the occupants were holding up a bank and it was their getaway car, Wise says.
Officers may have the equipment, but Wise says he’s never heard of anyone having to use it except for the handcuffs to help RCMP detain an offender.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had a significant incident where it was required,” Wise says. “We’ve certainly had to unholster a (pepperspray) can and advise an individual which is usually sufficient to de-escalate the circumstances."
Administrators with the City of Kamloops’ community safety department considered adding the equipment in 2009 but are looking into it again after a series of violent assaults on local bylaw officers. Two of the Kamloops officers recently assaulted, including one female officer who was attacked with a skateboard, have since returned to work.
Wise says Kamloops staff consulted with him in their review. He says for Kelowna officers, the gear has prevented assaults on general duty members and is warranted given the high-risk scenarios staff could face given their clientele.
“There’s been a number of circumstances where we’ve been in some threatening situations where just the presence of the tool sets on our tool belt and the vests that we wear... portray a professional image that makes an individual think twice about their actions,” he says. "We deal with an interface from a variety of individuals in our daily tasks which are potentially mental health individuals or drug-induced related circumstances and are very unpredictable."
To have this equipment in place, Wise says his officers are trained under RCMP supervision and follow their same use of force model. Every three years, officers must retrain on weapon use. A bylaw officer is not permitted to have the equipment until he or she has completed their training.
Kamloops city council has yet to decide it its bylaw officers should be equipped with defence tools.
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