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LETTER – Community Services Officers speak out about their work

(Image: City of Kamloops)

Being a Community Services Officer (CSO) is not easy. It is a challenging and often thankless role that faces harsh realities and public criticism. This job isn’t for everyone, but those who do accept the challenge do so with open arms.

One year has passed since the announcement of the restructuring of Bylaw Services to Community Services. The change was in response to the ever-changing community landscape and to fill the gaps in terms of social needs, education, and authority when responding to calls for service.

The City of Kamloops heard community concerns about Bylaw Services and evaluated what changes and behaviours would result in improved service levels. The Community Services Division now operates on a 24-hour rotation with an educational approach: respond, educate, and encourage and then, if needed, enforce.

We asked our CSOs to tell us about their job, and this is what we heard:

Community Services Officer, 4 months of service

As CSOs, we face challenges daily dealing with the vulnerable population. Vulnerable is defined as (of a person(s)) in need of special care, support, or protection because of age, disability, or risk of abuse or neglect. One of the biggest challenges is also the most basic of a CSOs duties—interacting with the public. However, this becomes challenging as CSOs are rendered vulnerable when working amidst a global pandemic.

We take precautions to maintain distance but also ensure our eyes and ears can observe and perceive our surroundings. Unfortunately, our vulnerable members of society are particularly susceptible to health risks and exposure as many do not have the comfort of a stable home. Some of the risk factors observed by CSOs are nutritional vulnerability, lack of income, substance misuse, and inadequate housing, just to name a few. As CSOs, we can be utilized as a resource to the vulnerable population by assisting with wellness checks; storing personal effects; or lending an ear when someone needs to talk, vent, seek assistance, or just for a simple conversation. CSOs can also refer vulnerable persons to other resources, supports, emergency services (Interior Health, ASK Wellness, The Mustard Seed Kamloops, Canadian Mental Health Association, Opioid Use Disorder Resources, etc.) as well as shelter resources (Canadian Mental Health Association, The Mustard Seed Kamloops).

Many CSOs have a success story to share regarding this topic, but from my own personal experience, the biggest challenge and success is understanding the individual—having the patience, taking the time, and knowing the right questions to ask to understand who we are encountering.

We must always remember that everyone we meet is fighting a battle we know nothing about. Sometimes we fail to realize this as humans and as a society; it is crucial that we not judge a book by its cover, and we must ensure to understand the book first before making any conclusions.

Community Services Officer,  1 year of service 

As part of the new integration from Bylaw Services to Community Services, from the perspective of a new employee coming into the role, I have been a part of and seen many positive changes. For myself, it has been a great experience helping in the community that I have grown up in. I believe the educational approach with officer to client and face-face contact has benefited the department and community members that we serve. It may not be broadcasted largely, but we do hear from the public that they appreciate the presence in the downtown areas and that there is more direct communication with an officer when a complaint is made.

We have helped members of the vulnerable population find resources to help support themselves, which is commonly very complex. We try to understand the needs and wants of a person while we balance the rights and laws of the public. The relationships that we have made and are continuing to build with the RCMP and Kamloops Fire Rescue have only benefited the department and will continue to grow. As we are still learning and growing, I believe the changes in Community Services have been for the better and will ultimately help shape how we conduct our services going forward.

Community Services Officer,  6 months of service

I am extremely honoured and happy to be able to call myself a CSO for the City of Kamloops. Although there are many reasons I love my job, here is a few! Every day is new and exciting while working in this position. This position allows me to help the community of Kamloops in many ways. While on shift as a CSO, I am approached regularly to be thanked for the hard work that is being done throughout the community. The feedback the community provides drives me to work harder to make Kamloops shine. Some benefits of the job include cleaning debris from the streets, ensuring public safety, and enforcing municipal bylaws. Working alongside many different associations is another reason I love my job. Being able to direct people to the support services that they need is very rewarding.

I love being able to go out in the community that I was born and raised in and assist in any way I can to help the citizens of Kamloops. Being a CSO is also rewarding because of the encouraging dynamic our workgroup has. Officers are supportive of one another and push each other to be the best we can be at our job.

Community Services Crew Leader, 10 years of service

I have worked in this division since 2012. Over the years, the division hadn’t changed its way in how officers did their work; however, during these years, the workload increased, and the community experienced an increase in social issues, which stemmed from mental health and addiction issues, COVID-19, and other aspects. During the time in my role, I noticed these increases occurring—with the past two years being the biggest challenge.

Over time, other officers and I have requested better training and support. With the restructure to Community Services, we have finally received the training we need to feel confident in our roles. The training has been amazing, and I have learned so much. With this training and restructure, I felt empowered to dive into what the bylaws mean and understand the Community Charter. It has allowed me to really investigate what we can do instead of the old way of saying “we don’t do that.”

Community Services Crew Leader, 1.5 years of service

For myself, the change to Community Services has allowed me to work with the outside CSOs, offering training and helping to lead them to be better officer and has been a very interesting and rewarding shift in environment and routine.

At the beginning of the change, I did a lot of hands-on training with old and new members of the CSO team. I have always been good at leading and taking great pride in passing on my techniques, knowledge, and stories of my experiences. One of the nice things working between the cell block crew and to the outside crew is the fact we get to be proactive in our community. This helps in many ways as we do see the same people outside that we’ve met in the cell block, where we have already developed rapport with the clients, which makes both of us feel more comfortable and at ease when we approach them to have a conversation. We get to know the different personalities and quickly learn what might be helpful and what might be a trigger in many situations. This is the part of my job that gives me a “feel good” feeling.

I saw the benefit of going from Bylaw to Community Services Officers to be a lot more hand-in-hand versus hands-on with the public. Since the change, we have been working to show the businesses we are here to help oversee the streets and keep the downtown core clean and “comfortable” (for the lack of a better word) to the best of ability, within our control. On the flip-side, we are also there to guide businesses when they may not be adhering to bylaws, providing education and when needed, enforcement. It feels to me that the change has been a success where we are working more closely with local businesses, internal divisions, the RCMP, Kamloops Fire Rescue, and the community as a whole.

I feel positive at the end of my shifts when I know that I have guided the staff and trained them to the best of my ability and see them succeed in their roles. Many times, I have been told by the public that they appreciate the job we do and that they have noticed the difference in the city, particularly the garbage pickup and camp cleanup that we do! So anytime you are out and about and you see a Community Services Officer, please say hello, give us feedback (good or bad) or give us an air high-five. We are all in this together. Let’s continue to Make Kamloops Shine!

CITY OF KAMLOOPS

About Mel Rothenburger (9125 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

3 Comments on LETTER – Community Services Officers speak out about their work

  1. Do we take PR press releases at face value?
    No, we should not and we do not! There is trouble within and we know it.

  2. John Noakes // May 1, 2022 at 7:05 AM // Reply

    Perhaps the public deserves a letter with input from the previous Bylaw Services officers who lost their jobs due to the changes.
    Is it fair that one of the guys took a position working on sewers?

    • Marcus Lowe // May 1, 2022 at 5:02 PM // Reply

      Extremely interesting comment to me. I would like to know more from the previous Bylaw Services Officers as well: range of service 2-20 years.

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