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Para-policing: complementing public safety


June 20, 2019
By Dean Young

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Public Safety Canada’s departmental plans over the past 10 years have prominently listed crime prevention as a strategic outcome, and I submit the use of para-police resources can bolster public safety by contributing to this outcome.

A para-police model provides a viable means to address the many challenges of rural policing. The western world (Canada, United States and the United Kingdom) has adopted, in one form or another, para-policing models, all of which are used for code enforcement, minor criminal matters and a myriad of other legislative administration. Such co-operative working relationships increase efficiency, reduce costs, allow sworn police officers to increase time spent on core policing roles and ultimately improve organizational performance.

It is time for Canada to explore the role that para-police play in countering rural crime. The traditional provider of security and public order is the police. However, due to the changing organizational and social requirements for those services—as well as budgetary restraints, training and human resource issues and staffing—we have seen the expansion of peace officer/special constable roles or the use of private security services. These roles usurp some of that power and responsibility to provide the public with a more direct and permanent service, aligning the para-policing agencies’ roles closely with Sir Robert Peel’s principles of community policing.

Many municipalities have defined a set of strategic goals, one of which typically includes crime prevention. Aspects of this goal usually fall to the peace officer/special constables, due to their increased preventative and proactive presence in the community as well as their availability to respond to complaints. It is time to recognize the contributions of peace officer/ special constables as a supplementary service to the police and to provide guidance and drive to maximize crime prevention beyond the traditional authority.

A significant challenge still facing para-policing, regardless of the model being used, is the simple mistrust between agencies regarding information sharing. The need for information networks to merge and become accessible is evident, but this is a significant challenge in countering crime. There are other public sectors that demonstrate the success of such networks (healthcare, for example) but there is also a real threat with the security of this information (as we have also seen with the healthcare information networks in terms of hacks and misuse).

Para-policing is not a perfect solution. There are many disadvantages associated with the use of non-sworn police members. The para-police industry is rife with lack of training and education, either by small employing agencies with fiscal restraints or exacerbated by a lack of access to police colleges to gain the professional knowledge.

Some studies have compared sworn police and civilians when it comes to levels of job satisfaction/dissatisfaction, stress, burnout, organizational commitment and absenteeism. Most para-policing agencies have limited promotion opportunities and few opportunities for lateral movement, which would provide job enrichment or new work experiences (important for an individual’s career growth). There are better paid opportunities in the private sector, where para-policing can escape the organized labour issues and collective agreements.

That being said, my intent is to simply open the door, both by policy and by procedure, and to work toward substantial strides in building a foundation of trust between all public safety partners.

Dean Young is a veteran first responder from Alberta.