Fort Liard has been selected as the community where the GNWT will trial its community safety officer program.
The safety officers won’t be able to arrest people and don’t replace police, but will work collaboratively with the RCMP to help “promote safety and wellness,” according to a statement from the GNWT’s Department of Justice.
The GNWT’s 2021-22 budget outlined $300,000 in funding for the Department of Justice to create a Community Safety Officer (CSO) Pilot Program to “explore alternative approaches to community safety outside of police enforcement,” according to Ngan Trinh, spokesperson for the justice department.
“There has been a gap between the perceived role of what services police should provide, and what the RCMP is actually, contractually obligated and operationally funded to provide,” Trinh said in an email.
“The Hamlet of Fort Liard Council’s strategic vision is to have a progressive, healthy, and safe community,” Fort Liard Mayor Cathy Kotchea said in a statement. “The employment of a Community Safety Officer will further enable Council to achieve this vision and we are pleased to move forward with this pilot.”
Similar programs exist in other territories. The Kwanlin Dün First Nation in Yukon has also developed a community safety officer. Trinh said, like the Kwanlin Dün program, Community Safety Officers in the NWT will not carry weapons or have arresting and enforcement powers.
The GNWT’s 2021-22 budget also included money for three more RCMP constables, seemingly flying in the face of the “Defund the Police” movement. But this is not the case, says Wawzonek.
“There’s been a need for more constables, I think for quite a while,” said Wawzonek. “I don’t think that was necessarily a new ask or something newly identified, so it’s not meant to be a part of a signal in one direction or another as necessarily philosophical.”
Wawzonek added the community policing initiative was “often pointed to as a direction when we speak about defunding the police.”
The program is set to last three years, with $303,000 in funding being provided annually to run the program.
The hiring process and training will start in summer 2021, and rollout and monitoring of the program is planned to take place between summer 2021 and April 2024.