Stettler County council balks at firearms for peace officers

Stettler county council baulked at the idea of firearms for their municipal peace officers when the idea was presented to them at their regular council meeting Mar. 11.

Peace Officer Lee Hardman presented councillors with a request to consider providing peace officers with shotguns to humanely handle the putting down of wildlife in distress.

Hardman stated peace officers have been called to animals in distress in the past and had no way of handling the situation. He said this was the main reason for the request, while the issue of aggressive dogs was less so.

Hardman noted many other municipalities allow their peace officers access to shotguns.

Coun. James Nibourg said he was concerned about the impression the public would get if the county allowed peace officers access to firearms. Also, he said the estimated cost of $5,000 to $10,000 based on one complaint was not acceptable. 

Nibourg also stated this looked like provincial downloading.

Coun. Dave Grover said county peace officers aren’t trained to handle firearms which seemed to create a liability issue and he wouldn’t support the request.

Coun. Les Stulburg said he felt the peace officers could handle the responsibility, but agreed with Nibourg that this looked like provincial downloading.

Coun. Wayne Nixon stated this would place a lot of responsibility on the county and its peace officers.

Ultimately, a motion to forward this request to committee for consideration was defeated by a 3 to 4 vote.

Budget crunch

Councillors agreed to meet on Mar. 23 and 24 for a revised budget workshop, as CAO Yvette Cassidy noted in a memo to council that recent provincial government announcements and loss of assessment means Stettler county is looking at a further budget shortfall of between $1.5 and $1.8 million.

‘Pepperball’ equipment

Peace Officer Lee Hardman presented councillors with a request to consider “pepperball” equipment for his department. 

Pepperballs are a ranged, non-lethal piece of equipment that officers could fire at an aggressive dog, for example. 

Peace officers could avoid having to use batons or pepper spray on animals.

During discussion, some councillors voiced concern the pepperball equipment looked like handguns; a photo was shown during the meeting.

Coun. Nixon said he felt the idea had merit and should be sent to committee for serious consideration.

Coun. Nibourg stated that he again felt the public will get the impression that county peace officers are being armed.

However, by a 5 to 2 vote councillors approved sending the pepperball request to committee.

Speed enforcement

Councillors approved expanding their peace officer’s authority to traffic control on primary highways.

The memo was presented to council by Peace Officer Lee Hardman; it was noted council had the authority to expand peace officer powers to include primary highway traffic enforcement and theft under $5,000 investigations, among others.

Hardman noted that the county keeps 60 per cent of fine revenue while the provincial government gets 40 per cent.

He stated the new powers would not increase workload because peace officers still follow county policy of focusing on municipal roads. 

Peace officers would only enforce on primary roads if the peace officers happen to be on one and an incident occurs.

Coun. Nibourg stated he felt this was more provincial downloading. He also wanted to point out this subject has nothing to do with generating revenue.

Reeve Larry Clarke stated he lives near a provincial highway and it seems the typical speed nowadays is 125 km/hr to 130 km/hr, which is very concerning when trying to merge.

Coun. Stulburg noted the provincial government is charging municipalities more for policing next year, then municipalities continue to face a lack of service. 

Councillors approved the improved traffic authority by a 4 to 3 vote.

Councillors discussed criminal code authority for their peace officers. Coun. Cheri Neitz noted this authority would help address the rural crime problem.

Hardman said allowing peace officers to handle these investigations would free up RCMP for higher-profile criminal investigations.

CAO Cassidy noted Red Deer county recently contacted Stettler county to gauge support for a combined municipal police force for the two counties.

Councillors decided to send the idea to committee and it would return for decision at a future meeting.

New peace officer vehicles

Councillors approved an offer from Stettler Dodge for a new peace officer vehicle after examining tender results.

CAO Cassidy noted the previous vehicle suffered a failed transmission and even though a hold has been placed on capital purchases due to tight budgets, funds had been put away for this replacement.

Council accepted the  low bid made by Stettler Dodge which offered a 2020 Dodge Durango Enforcer 3.6L V6 for $37,834.

The subject of leases came up, but Hardman said leases usually involved kilometre limits, which handcuffs the peace officers. 

Coun. Grover also noted the stringent condition that lease returns must be in compared to what peace officer vehicles are expected to do.

In total there were 10 tenders received from a variety of dealers.

Border patrol

Council received an update on addressing issues that certain Stettler county residents have along the municipality’s border with Lacombe county.

CAO Cassidy explained that not all rural municipalities use the same addressing system and that is the issue here. 

Apparently, one side of a road uses the Lacombe system and one side uses the Stettler system.

Not surprisingly, this can be confusing for residents. Stettler county has requested Lacombe alter their addresses that are adjacent to Stettler county, but no response has been received. 

Stettler county staff stated they would let residents know this is being discussed.

Police reporter

Council heard a report from Bashaw RCMP commander Sgt. Bruce Holliday. 

He said crime stats for 2019 compared to 2018 are persons crimes down 11 per cent, property crimes down 15 per cent, break and enters down 16 per cent and total criminal code offences down 15 per cent.

Holliday said the armed robbery in Alix, Alta. last year was solved because a member of the public provided a key piece of evidence. 

They spotted a truck pulling a snowmobile and driving erratically. A suspect from the truck was found to be in possession of a key piece of evidence from the bank robbery.

Holliday also pointed out video evidence was key in solving several other robberies, including some in Alix. 

One suspect was arrested as they entered Red Deer and is now facing possibly 10 to 12 years in jail.

Coun. Nixon asked Holliday his advice on a residence in Stettler county linked to numerous instances of crime. 

Holliday said, with over nine years experience in the RCMP gang unit, police should keep pressure on the residence and people who frequent it. 

He suggested not just criminal code charges, but traffic charges, building code charges and everything that police could possibly investigate.

‘It’s their road’

Council discussed erecting signage on secondary highways noting that such roads are provincial responsibility, not county.

Councillors seemed very frustrated by the fact the public complains to the county about the condition of the secondary highways.

Coun. Stulburg stated that if the signs list the road’s owners and provincial government phone number, perhaps someone in Edmonton will get the point. 

Councillors approved the signs.

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.