Bylaw officers in Penticton could soon also hold the title of “peace officers,” and have the authority to enforce reported disorderly conduct on people at drive-thrus, bus stops and ATM machines.
Penticton council will consider next week the Safe Public Places Bylaw, a program that would set expectations on how people use public spaces and give officers the legal authority to enforce, resolve and respond to calls on public disturbance, drug paraphernalia, spitting, loitering and harassment, among others.
Currently, only Penticton RCMP has the legal authority to respond to such calls.
But with caseloads increasing on police, the city is proposing the adoption of a new program that would give bylaw officers greater authority when supporting safe public places.
“It’s about working with people,” said Blake Laven, the city’s director of development services. “It’s not interventionist, it’s about using the way (bylaw officers) have been trained to resolve issues and not take an enforcement perspective all time.”
People sleeping in doorways, panhandling in drive-thrus and loitering in washrooms are among the calls bylaw officers would have the legal authority to respond to under the proposed program.
“Our goal is to ensure that everyone feels safe, including those struggling with addictions issues,” Laven added. “The province is very clear municipalities have the right to regulate what happens in public spaces we want to find that balance.”
The bylaw would cover soliciting at ATM machines and drive-thrus, as well as public nudity, urination and the takeover of places that aren’t being used as intended.
In B.C. municipalities with more than 75,000 people, some form of the bylaw in question already exists. It would be new to a new place the size of Penticton, though, Laven says.
“We’re not creating anything new here,” he said. “These rules exist in any larger centre where their municipality staff has the ability to enforce.”
Bylaw officers would enforce disorderly conduct violations by identifying the person, asking them to leave and requesting volunteering compliance.
“But we know situations don’t always resolve peacefully,” Laven said. “On top of the softer sides of training, our staff are training to use defensive equipment as well.
Although under case law, bylaw officers could already be referred to as “peace officers,” adoption of the new program would make it explicit in Penticton policy.
Council will be asked Tuesday, March 21, to give the first reading of the proposed bylaw.
Laven says a public engagement period would follow if council shows its support for the program.