900 acres of green space in the middle of a city can be a complicated place for police, so Saskatchewan’s capital city’s approach to security at its flagship park uses an alternative to traditional law enforcement .
Wascana Park in Regina includes the Legislative Assembly building, the University of Regina campus, museums, performance halls, a lake, and an extensive network of trails and walking trails.
Three community safety officers were assigned to various tasks in Wascana. Since the program started in May, they have become familiar figures. On a recent bike patrol on Wednesday afternoon, seconds after leaving the office, two of the members are eagerly called out by children who want to show them a friendly goose.
A driver also waves them down to ask about bikes that appear to have been abandoned near the lake. Officers make sure the bikes are reunited with their owners. They then look for shopping carts and tents in the bushes to see if anyone is sleeping on the street. On the way back, they practice wheeling to show off at the skate park.
Community safety officers, also known as public safety officers, are not new. Since 2001, dozens of Canadian cities have chosen to use them. Yet in 2021, Regina is one of many cities that are just starting to train and hire agents.
They are not police officers, but have completed at least six weeks of training at Saskatchewan Polytechnic on behalf of the Ministry of Corrections, Police and Public Safety. Some have also received training at Saskatchewan Police College or the RCMP National Training Academy, or have training related to security or law enforcement.
Sergeant Daryl Chernoff, who manages the program at the Wascana Center, says they are best placed to “help with local concerns; low risk but high priority items. This includes traffic and law enforcement in the park.
Sgt. Chernoff says his officers are also experiencing “some of your big city problems.”
“There are homeless people,” he says. “There are people who are struggling with addictions… We can approach it not so much from a law enforcement perspective, but by trying to help them take the next step in their lives… or at least to give them direction.
And because community safety officers are not part of the Regina Police Department – although they do collaborate – some park visitors feel more comfortable around them, Sgt. Chernoff said.
“I believe that for some people we would be more accessible than a police officer for that reason – they don’t see us as police officers,” he says. “They see us as security professionals.
The emphasis is on “being visible so the public can see that we are there and that it is a safe place to spend their time”.
In summer, this means frequent patrols on foot and by bicycle.
“You can actually… stop next to someone, chat a little with a family, things like that. There are a lot of positive comments about the increased accessibility of agents.
But some park visitors have concerns. Community security officers may not be part of the police force, but they do wear uniforms and carry a baton, pepper spray and handcuffs.
Regina resident Jordan Taylor said her experience with law enforcement “was not great” while fleeing domestic violence, and she is concerned that the uniforms and weapons of community security officers may make it harder for others in their situation to seek help.
“When you’re in distress, seeing someone with obvious guns around their waist… is an aggravating factor more than a mitigating factor,” she says.
But Ms. Taylor is more positive about how other elements of the community safety program could have helped her when she needed it.
“Honestly, just the fact that they’re biking in the park helps a bit, because it doesn’t seem as aggressive as the vehicles,” she says. “Small differences like this make a huge, huge difference in the way they interact with audiences. “
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