Two Red Deer community peace officers with extra police powers will patrol the downtown in a first-in-Alberta initiative.
The pilot project gave the two peace officers additional authority to investigate Criminal Code offences, such as theft under $5,000 and mischief under $5,000. The team was also provided additional training and access to RCMP resources, such as their communication systems and the crime data collection and analysis effort called Pinpoint.
Red Deer RCMP Supt. Holly Glassford said the move to give community peace officers additional investigation and arrest powers is a unique joint initiative of the City of Red Deer, RCMP and Alberta Justice.
It builds on what is already seen as a successful approach to tackling persistent downtown crime issues.
Last year, the downtown patrol unit conducted 2,219 investigations, which led to 784 arrests, 493 Criminal Code charges, 470 weapon seizures, 37 ounces of illegal drugs taken off the street and 1,061 tickets.
Sixty-four per cent of investigations were triggered by what unit officers saw and heard on patrol. The other 36 per cent of investigations were in response to community calls.
“Despite all of these huge accomplishments we recognize there is still a lot of work to do to improve the feelings of safety and that perception of comfort for the people visiting in the downtown of Red Deer, living and working in our downtown,” said Glassford in a news conference.
“During our latest community consultations, we heard from the citizens of Red Deer that they still worry about the safety of the downtown. People often expressed their hesitancy to visit and explore because of the perception that is not safe.
“This is an innovative approach to expanding our policing resources.”
It is an experiment that Glassford is confident will prove its worth and can be expanded in the future.
“Absolutely. I think we need to be innovative to our approaches to policing and I think that this is just the first step and collaborating and making sure the right resource is used at the right time.
“It will allow our RCMP members to maybe focus on some higher risk areas of investigations, while the CPOs can tackle the mischiefs and the thefts.
“Certainly, the two they have hired are a great fit and an addition to our team.”
The two new unit peace officers who will pound the downtown pavement, Steven Szelekovszky and Ken Chiasson, are keen to get to work.
“I’m really excited, we both are,” said Chiasson. “We just really want to get downtown and make people feel safe to come downtown and be happy to explore downtown again.
“We’re already seeing some positive results. People are starting to come back and see things. That’s mainly because of our RCMP counterparts, but we’re going to help out as best we can.”
Szelekovszky is equally enthusiastic.
“We know it’s kind of a first for the province. Honestly, we’re just excited to be part of it and excited to be working and we get to be a little bit more proactive, which is both what we really enjoy.
“We’re hoping we can really make some changes.”
Before taking their new position they had to go through a crash course, learning the RCMP’s computer and communications systems and brushing up on the Criminal Code.
Red Deer Mayor Ken Johnston said downtown revitalization is a key city council priority.
“Frankly, ensuring our business owners feel safe and supported is essential to the revitalization of our downtown. The downtown is the heart of our community,” said Johnston.
And it is on its way back, he said.
“The downtown is on the rebound. The downtown is emerging. The downtown is restoring … and I give great credit to the partnership we share with the RCMP and with this unit. I think it’s tremendous.”
Peter Puszka, City of Red Deer municipal policing superintendent, said the pilot project has been in the works for 18 months and involved creating comprehensive memorandums of understanding with the RCMP to give community peace officers access to their resources.
“In some respects, they will have comparable duties to their RCMP counterparts,” said Puszka. “They will investigate incidents, collect evidence, and provide proactive and responsive enforcement of city bylaws, provincial statutes and some criminal codes.
“They will not, however, be responding to active events requiring immediate police law enforcement intervention.”
First rolled out in 2018 as a four-officer unit, the downtown patrol unit has now grown to eight and could be expanded further if the latest initiative to combat downtown crime proves as effective as expected, he said.