The big stick

by Pat Rediger

REGINA, Sask. – Saskatchewan traffic safety officers may be speaking softly in the future, but they’ll also be carrying a big stick. The provincial government recently gave in to officers’ demands to be armed with collapsible batons and pepper spray.

In December, 34 of 42 officers refused to work in the field unless they were allowed to carry these protective devices. Instead, the officers spent their time meeting with carriers and shippers to provide information on safety audits.

Peter Hurst, Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation’s director of compliance, said the government approved the officers’ demands on Dec. 7. It is expected that all of the officers will receive training on these devices by the end of February and that new polices and procedures will be drafted by then. Until this is completed, officers agreed to return to the field only if they are allowed to work in teams during daylight hours.

“Officers will be trained in the proper use and control of pepper spray and batons,” explained Hurst. “We are also developing polices and procedures on how to use them properly. Policies must be established so that force is used responsibly.”

Officers are currently undergoing training on how to diffuse violent situations through talking (a process that has already been underway for 1-1/2 years). The self-defence portion will be taught through the University of Regina’s police management program.

Self-defence training involves a three-day session and, at press time, approximately two-thirds of the officers had taken it. Hurst added that the department has completed the first draft of its policies and procedures and is expected to finalize them by the time the officers have completed their training.

Although traffic officers refused to work in the field, the department has been supportive of their efforts.

The issue came to a head on Nov. 22 when seven field officers filed a grievance to the Highway Department’s occupational health and safety (OHS) committee. This committee recommended that officers be issued pepper spray and batons after they had been properly trained in their use.

Despite the $16,000 price tag, the government agreed with the OHS committee’s recommendations. This move is the latest step towards improving officer safety. The officers have also received bulletproof vests and they are driving vehicles with upgraded radio systems to call for assistance.

Despite the call for these extra precautions, Hurst says the number of violent confrontations have been relatively few in number. “I understand there is an element of risk with the job,” he says. “But, by and large, I haven’t heard about a lot of problems. Hopefully, we won’t have to use pepper spray and batons.” n

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