Keeping bylaw officers unarmed best choice in the long run

Two & Out
By James Peters
June 23, 2017 - 6:00pm

KAMLOOPS — The City of Kamloops is overhauling its bylaw department to make it a kinder, gentler group of professionals dedicated to implementing and enforcing the rules city council sets in stone. 

It's renaming the department to remove the word 'enforcement,' in an attempt to reflect that enforcement should be the last step in dealing with an issue of non-compliance. 

It's also holding off on giving its officers defensive weaponry such as batons, handcuffs and pepper spray. 

Some may raise an eyebrow at that move. 

Arming bylaw officers with those tools would be far from groundbreaking in this province. 

According to the city, about 25 per cent of BC's municipalities already allow their bylaw officers to use that equipment, along with the proper training. 

And bylaw officers are getting into more and more tense situations in the course of their normal day-to-day work. 

Take, for example, the dismantling of a temporary shelter in a spot that's not appropriate for a person to be living. 

Hopefully it doesn't get to that point, but if it does, you're likely dealing with a person's only possessions on this Earth. 

It's completely understandable they'd be upset. 

Now what if they see a baton hanging off the bylaw officer's belt? 

Are they more or less likely to act in a violent manner to protect their possessions? 

Just the sight of a baton or handcuffs already escalates the inherent tension in the situation. 

And when the situation is so tense that it may result in a physical encounter, it's best RCMP are called. 

The truth is, this is just the tip of the iceberg in a worthwhile debate about what tools and equipment any peace officers are given - even RCMP. 

The same argument used to justify bylaw officers carrying weapons might be used to justify small police forces in American towns carrying an arsenal that would be more appropriate on the front lines of an international ground war. 

It becomes an arms race, and we should be more interested in de-escalating it than ramping it up, even if it is on such a seemingly small scale. 

Kudos to the City of Kamloops for its commitment to dealing with bylaw infractions diplomatically.