Policing closer to home
Bylaw officers move to a new RCMP beat

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (NOV 011/96) - A new way of policing is about to hit Northern streets. Twenty-two bylaw officers will soon be RCMP community constables.

It's good for me and it's good for the community," said Eliyah Qavavau, Cape Dorset's newest community constable.

Qavavau was one of the 22 bylaw officers selected to train at the RCMP depot in Regina last June.

Other recruits came from Tulita, Broughton Island, Kimmirut, Hall Beach, Pangnirtung, Iqaluit, Pond Inlet, Arviat, Paulatuk, Fort Smith, Fort Liard, Whale Cove, Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet, Holman Island, Kugluktuk, Cambridge Bay, Tuktoyaktuk, Deline and Fort Simpson.

Qavavau and an Igloolik resident are the only two participants in the community constable training program who were invited to work for the RCMP as casual employees.

The other 20 recruits will continue to be paid by the hamlet but work for both the hamlet and RCMP.

During the four-week training course, officers studied fingerprinting, arresting, self-defence tactics and how to use a baton and pepper spray. To illustrate the pain inflicted by pepper spray, students had it sprayed in their own face.

"There was a burning sensation on my skin and I had problems breathing. The sensation lasted for about a hour," said Qavavau.

After he and the rest of the recruits completed the course they came back and continued with their jobs.

However, Qavavau came back to his home community and began working with a senior RCMP officer. Dressed in his Mountie uniform, he works about 56 hours every week -- with Mondays off.

Brian Burrill, training coordinator with the community development division of the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs, said it's up to the communities to do what ever they want with the new constable program.

"It's another cog in the wheel of community empowerment in the way they choose to run their community," Burrill said.

Each community is given procedures and guidelines for running their own program. An appendix is also included, which individual hamlets can change and manipulate to meet the demands of their community.

It's up to the hamlet to decide on uniforms, hours of work and duties. No two hamlets have to be the same.

"We expect it'll promote a better working relationship between RCMP and hamlets," Burrill said.

The community constable training program grew out of a pilot project started by the Fort Good Hope and Coral Harbour RCMP detachments two years ago.

Bylaw officers at that time were sent to Regina, trained and hired by RCMP to do community policing much like what participants from Igloolik and Cape Dorset are now doing.

Ian McCrea, community policing programmer with the Department of Justice, a partner in the CCTP, said the pilot project was so well-received by both communities, justice and MACA decided to offer it to the rest of the North.

"It makes for more sensitive policing," he said.

Knowing the language, the people, the issues affecting the community and applying the Criminal Code to individual groups is important to proper community policing.

"It seems like everyone is keen on this program," said McCrea.

McCrea expects some officers on the beat by the end of the year. If interest in the program continues, he hopes more bylaw officers will want to train under the program.

There is currently no police services act in the NWT. The RCMP is contracted out to serve and protect Northerners and it has been that way since the turn of the century.

Before Nunavut splits from the rest of the North a policing contract will have to be signed.

McCrea said a political figure or body from Nunavut will need to come up with an agreement and determine the extent of services, such as how many police officers are needed, where headquarters is to be located and how forensic and emergency services are to set up.

"It's not going to be something you're going to do overnight," said McCrea.