By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Bylaw Enforcement has a new member. William Norton became Morinville’s new Community Peace Officer (CPO) Sergeant Apr. 22 and said he is looking forward to working in the community.
The 31-year-old Westlock resident has been involved in the profession for the past 13 years, having first been given a summer position at the age of 18. He’s been involved in municipal work full time since 2004. Originally interested in pursuing a career in policing, Norton said he was soon attracted to the community side of things because he found it to be fulfilling.
“I find we can actually make a difference with the community,” he said of the profession, adding he sees the work of a CPO as more proactive than reactive. “If we are having a big issue with something we can actually invoke a bylaw and change that. In comparison with the RCMP – they go to the same type calls, the same type areas all the time. They can’t really change the criminal code to help it work with them. This gives me a lot better opportunity to solve the problems.”
Norton spent five years working in the field in Westlock and another four years with the City of St. Albert’s Traffic Enforcement division. Norton also did a short stint with the Municipal District of Bonnyville as an industry liaison officer before accepting the position in Morinville. “I come from more of a town kind of background,” he said. “With Westlock I built the program there and we have a very similar community from there to here. The City of St. Albert is larger but has the same processes, just more of them.”
Norton said he has ambitions to move up in the municipal world, and that the CPO Sergeant position was a step up in his career. “It wasn’t a planned step up,” he said, adding he had intended to spend a while with the MD of Bonnyville. “When this opportunity came up I jumped on it.”
Though he hopes to continue advancing in his career, perhaps one day taking on a directorship with a municipality, Norton is looking forward to working in Morinville as the Town’s new Community Peace Officer Sergeant.
Education before enforcement
Norton sees the role of bylaw enforcement as an important one in the community. “I know a lot of people think bylaws are a minor type thing, and I’ve dealt with that forever,” he said. “But if you’re that guy that has to listen to that dog bark until two in the morning for three weeks, I can tell you that guy thinks it is a pretty serious deal.”
But while he plans to take the community’s bylaw’s seriously, he points out education is the starting point when dealing with those who break the municipal rules.
“I’m a believer in compliance through education, but at the same point there has to be an enforcement arm,” Norton said. “We’ll educate until we can’t educate no more and then, unfortunately, we will have to act. I find the majority of people, once you educate them as to why things are done the way they are, or why things need to happen – they tend to react appropriately.”
But there is more to Norton’s role than enforcing the bylaws passed by Council. Both Norton and Community Peace Officer Eric Nicholson enforce provincial rules as well.
“Community Peace Officers, although hired by municipalities, have our oversight by the Solicitor General’s Office in the province,” Norton explained. “With that have come a lot of very specific training, and a lot of regulations that we have to stick by.”
Norton said training is taken seriously and often extends beyond that of conventional policing to ensure extra steps are taken. CPOs fill a gap between criminal code matters dealt with by RCMP and the municipal rules that were once the work of bylaw officers. “It’s more of a regulatory focus,” he said, adding CPOs deal with some 15 pieces of provincial legislation. “We may not be dealing with the most serious of incidences as they occur, but we are there to prevent those serious incidents from happening.”
Programs to continue
Norton said current programs including school traffic safety, positive ticketing and the upcoming bike safety rodeo will all continue. The CPO Sergeant said the positive ticketing program, where youth are rewarded for obeying the rules, has worked well in a number of communities. Norton would like to continue and even enhance the program here.
Norton’s partner, CPO Eric Nicholson, is organizing a Bike Safety Rodeo for May 16 at the Ray McDonald Sports Centre parking lot. Norton sees the event as more of the proactive community work his department is responsible for.
“It’s important to especially give the children a really good look at what the bike laws are and why they are important to them,” Norton said. “Every time a child meets a vehicle it turns out negative. If we can avoid any of those interactions by making sure people are aware of the rules of the road while on bicycles, that’s going to be a huge benefit.” Norton said the obstacle courses also give the children additional confidence in riding a bike properly. “All in all it’s just going to make sure the kids are safer on the road,” he said.
The CPO Sergeant explained he has many ideas for programs he’d like to see in Morinville, but he is going to spend the first few months with his boots on the ground getting to know the community and its people.
“Community is in our title. We are community peace officers and it’s named like that for a reason,” he said. “Our interest is our community.”