Saskatchewan conservation officers and commercial vehicle enforcement officers will be able to arrest and detain suspects as part of a new Protection and Response Team designed to reduce crime in rural areas.
Justice minister Gordon Wyant announced the team Aug. 22 in response to recommendations from a caucus committee on crime.
Expanding the powers of the conservation and vehicle enforcement officers means they could be the first responders at a scene, depending who is closest, the minister said.
The team includes 120 police officers from both RCMP and municipal services, 40 vehicle enforcement officers and 98 conservation officers.
The police contingent itself includes 60 positions currently working in the Combined Traffic Services Saskatchewan initiative, 30 new positions and 30 re-purposed positions.
Conservation officers already carry sidearms, but the vehicle officers do not. All will receive comprehensive training.
Funding of $5.9 million will support the team; SGI will contribute $4.9 million and the justice ministry will spend $1 million.
The caucus committee was appointed last November and after meetings and receiving written submissions made eight recommendations to the ministry back in March.
In addition to forming the provincial enforcement team, the committee recommended the government review the legislation that prevents two or more rural municipalities from jointly administering alternative policing programs, lobby Ottawa to strengthen the Youth Criminal Justice Act with a view to both increasing consequences and rehabilitation support for offenders, and work with partners to make automatic license plate recognition systems available in all police vehicles.
It recommended the province lobby the federal government for funding for better programs and services on First Nations, and for a gang exit strategy.
Finally, it said mental health and addiction treatment centres must be expanded and it asked police to appoint school liaison officers.
Committee chair Herb Cox said several themes recurred during the consultation.
“(In) rural areas, the visibility of the police force and the response times in those rural areas to ongoing property crimes” was a key concern, he said.