The Saskatchewan government’s new Protection and Response Team (PRT) will give increased authority to conservation officers and highway traffic officers.
Both will have the power to respond to emergency calls and make arrests in rural Saskatchewan.
“Why wouldn’t we get (the) closest response rather than trying to call somebody out and have a delayed response?” asked deputy minister of justice Dale McFee rhetorically.”The commonality of all three of those organizations is they all have red and blue lights, and there’s an expectation to the public when you see a red and blue light, that they can get help.”
Traffic officers will also be armed, joining their counterparts in conservation and policing. McFee argued the training for the three groups is similar.
Curtis Zablocki, Saskatchewan RCMP assistant commissioner, said there could be a learning curve when it comes to getting conservation and highway traffic officers up to speed with police.
“I’m sure there’ll be some degree of growing pains as we move forward but ultimately what will be important is the training that’s given to the resources that are going to form part of this project, part of this team,” said Zablocki.
On Tuesday, the province announced the creation of the PRT, comprised of existing RCMP and municipal police, 30 new officers, conservation officers and commercial vehicle enforcement officers from the Ministry of Highways.
The Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities (SARM) President Ray Orb said “the work is really just beginning” in regards to the PRT and rural crime being reduced.
He said two of the main concerns SARM has heard seem to be addressed in PRT’s objectives.
“We wanted to have a greater visibility of officers in the province in the rural areas so I think we’ve been promised today. We’re not necessarily getting more officers but we’re getting more visibility. We’re getting shorter response time,” said Orb.
He also believes there can be an upside to training conservation and highway traffic officers to handle similar duties to that of police officers.
“We’re happy to look at that to see how they can be retrained. I think maybe it is a good fit, obviously, if there’s some availability of officers in that field,” said Orb.
He added another way to help fight rural crime is technology: better surveillance systems and apps for things like smartphones and tablets. Orb said that comes through ensuring all rural areas have access to high-speed internet.