Winkler Police have received City Council approval to hire one new member this year, increasing their force to 19 sworn police officers.

However, it wasn't exactly what they hoped for.

"The city has lots of responsibilities, lots of areas to put money into," Police Chief Rick Hiebert says. "And disappointingly we were limited to one officer."

The request had been made for two officers, "and we thought we substantiated that," Hiebert says, suggesting the need is clear.

police chiefWinkler Police Chief Rick Hiebert"As the population grows, unfortunately so does the need for protection and safety," he says. "We don't want to fall behind... we want to be prepared."

Over time, demands on officers' time has greatly increased, "sadly many times it's on desk time" Hiebert says.

With more paperwork required by the Justice Department and the increase of serious crimes and investigation time, it's meant fewer officers hitting the streets.

It's shown in the number of traffic violations reported. In 2012 Highway Traffic Act offenses totalled 672. Last year that number was 454.

"We made a presentation for two officers when really we could use even more," Hiebert says. "There are so many specialized areas I'd like to target."

Fraud investigations especially can take months to complete Hiebert says, adding he'd also like to see officers specialize in drug investigations as drug seizures increase.

Instead, Hiebert says the city's focus seems to be on prevention and education with the Safe Communities Initiative and the creation of a Community Safety Officer.

"We're hoping that will reduce some of the workload for our police officers," he says.

The Community Safety Officer position would come out of the City's operating budget and answer to the City Manager. However, the CSO would work closely with Winkler Police.

"We are excited about the direction the city is taking in prevention programs, but that doesn't change the fact we need police officers to do investigations in specialized areas."

The Canadian police-to-population or "cop-to-pop" average is one officer for every 500 citizens.

With the recent census indicating Winkler is growing at an average of 500 people per year, Hiebert says following that statistic it would make sense to hire a new officer every year.

Hiebert was also surprised to see the department's capital budget slashed from the usual $50,000 to $7,500 this year.

He notes the capital budget included a number of items worth $54,000.

"We have some work to do," he says. "To see which items are a priority for us."

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