Bylaw enforcement officer
A bylaw enforcement officer is a law enforcement employee of a municipality, county or regional district, charged with the enforcement of non-criminal bylaws, rules, laws, codes or regulations enacted by local governments.
This terminology is commonly used in Canada and some other Commonwealth countries. In the Canadian province of Ontario, bylaw enforcement officers are generally titled municipal law enforcement officers, and in Newfoundland & Labrador, the term municipal enforcement officer is also used.
In the Canadian province of Alberta, municipalities can appoint bylaw enforcements officers under the authority of section 555 and 556 of the Municipal Government Act. There is a common misconception that all bylaw officers are community peace officers. However, a person appointed as a community peace officer can only enforce provincial acts and regulations. A community peace officer is not authorized to enforce municipal bylaws unless they are also appointed under the authority of the Municipal Government Act, or if the specific bylaw states it can be enforced by a community peace officer working for that municipality. There are a number of municipalities in Alberta whose officers enforce only municipal bylaws as bylaw officers, others that only enforce provincial acts as community peace officers, and others that hold dual municipal and provincial appointments.
Municipalities in the United States more frequently use the terms code enforcement officer or municipal regulations officer, although code enforcement officers in the United States often have a narrower scope of duties than municipal bylaw enforcement officers in Canada. Code enforcement officers in the United States are more like property standards officers in Canada. In the United Kingdom, the word warden is commonly used to describe various classes of non-police enforcement officers, and sometimes the title of inspector is also used in various jurisdictions. An environmental warden in Edinburgh, Scotland has duties very similar to those of a bylaw enforcement officer employed by a similar-sized city in Canada.
In Australia, the terms law enforcement officer, Shire Ranger or local laws officer are used for general-duty bylaw enforcement, traffic officer for parking enforcement only, and animal management officer (formerly known as ranger or council ranger) for animal-related enforcement.
In Germany, the term Ordnungsamt or Gemeindevollzugsdienst is used for general-duty bylaw enforcement; Gemeindevollzugsdienst is more commonly used to refer to bylaw enforcement in the German state of Baden-Württemberg.
Structure and organization
Within Canadian jurisdictions, the term Bylaw Enforcement Officer may refer to one or more classes of employees charged with enforcing bylaws, such as Animal Control Officers, Parking & Traffic Enforcement Officers, Property Use Inspectors, Building Inspectors, and others, but more commonly refers to a person employed in a uniformed capacity for the purpose of enforcing a variety of bylaws in a high visibility role. Increasingly, municipalities are opting for this model of bylaw enforcement, as a multi-purpose approach to bylaw enforcement is less costly while offering more flexibility. Incumbents to such positions often require a higher degree of skill and experience than those employed in stratified enforcement roles. Many municipalities seek to recruit former or retired police officers to these positions, but the field has undergone significant change in the past several decades, and increased reliance on bylaw officers on the part of the municipal governments has expedited the professionalization of this field. Many Police Academies and/or Public Administration schools offer specialized training in bylaw enforcement.
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Most bylaw enforcement services are structured in one of the following ways:
- General Bylaw Enforcement - where the Bylaw Enforcement Officer is responsible for many different bylaws, such as parking, business regulations, animal control, zoning, noise, signs, etc. Specialized trades inspection is still conducted by a skilled trades inspector with experience in the field, such as a Building Inspector or an Electrical or Plumbing Inspector. In this capacity, the general Bylaw Enforcement Officer is frequently asked to conduct added duties to respond to a problem. Specialized 'non' uniform services may be added to assist in enforcement duties where a different image is more productive - such as in the enforcement of business regulations. Some cities employ License Inspectors for tasks where the "suit" is more effective than the "badge."
- General Bylaw Enforcement without Animal Control - where the officers enforce various regulations, but do not conduct animal control, which is assigned to specialized Animal Control Officers or is contracted out to an outside agency such as the SPCA.
- Stratified or Diversified Bylaw Enforcement - where different tasks within bylaw enforcement are handled by different classes of employees. Parking regulations may be enforced by parking enforcement officers, animal regulations by Animal Control Officers, different classes of Inspectors may exist for Licensing, Property Use, Signage, Garbage & Waste, Environmental Protection/Recycling, Street Use or Engineering Inspectors, etc. This model is usually employed in larger cities, although it is frequently seen as bureaucratic and inefficient, since workloads may not warrant the employment of so many classes of personnel all for specialized tasks. This model is often inefficient because enforcement is conducted from City Hall or offices, through letters and reports, rather than through a more direct approach of site visits. Furthermore, this model offers significantly less flexibility to concentrate on more problematic areas, as there can be tendency for incumbents to "stick" to their own work and turn a blind eye to other problems, of which, in fairness, they may not be even aware due to a lack of training.
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For example, someone employed as a Bylaw Enforcement Officer in the general enforcement model may be attending to a call of an illegally parked vehicle and drive by a freshly erected sign which contravenes city regulation on where signs may be posted. A Parking Enforcement Officer attending the same call in a city which uses the stratified enforcement model would not take responsibility for signage issues and would not pay attention to the sign, or would likely even know that the sign has been posted illegally. His mind would be focused on the job at hand, which is only parking enforcement, and nothing else. In that model, a special complaint would usually have to be received from someone bothered by the sign enough and determined enough to have the issue taken up by the city, and the issue would hopefully be forwarded to the Signage Inspector working in the City Hall headquarters. The Inspector would then probably draft a letter and have the letter mailed. It would then take weeks, perhaps months to have the sign removed and the issue resolved; if the person who placed the sign fails to remove it, the Inspector would probably contact the engineering department or the maintenance crew supervisor and ask that a work order be made for the removal of the sign. The Inspector would most likely not issue tickets, and would "manage" the problem rather than "enforce" the bylaw. It would then take another period of time before the workorder was filled on a priority sequence. The general Bylaw Enforcement Officer working in a city with the more flexible unified model, on the other hand, could take proactive measures and attend to the problem immediately, since he is already on the scene, issuing a parking ticket. He would ascertain who the sign belongs to, attend the business being advertised on the sign, and can demand immediate corrective action in-person, and/or can remove the sign and/or provide a deadline and/or issue fines. Because general Bylaw Enforcement Officers are also responsible for animal control, they operate vans or trucks which can then serve the multi-purpose of having the necessary equipment, tools (such as pickers, shovels, wire, etc.) and cargo space at hand to impound illegally placed signs, clean up debris, or transport equipment. The unified model is therefore often seen as less wasteful, more efficient, more effective and offering a greater degree of accountability with less red tape.
Peace Officer Status
Today, all bylaw enforcement officers employed in Canada are de facto Peace Officers; in numerous provinces, bylaw officers are also de jure Peace Officers for the purpose of enforcing municipal laws, having been sworn under various Police Acts. Courts have ruled on several occasions, most recently in 2000 (in R. v. Turko), that the definition of Peace Officer under section 2 of the Criminal Code of Canada includes bylaw officers as "other person[s] employed for the preservation or maintenance of the public peace or for the service or execution of civil process." As such, while actually engaged in the execution of their duties, Bylaw Enforcement Officers are Peace Officers, independent of whether they are sworn or unsworn constables.
This was first proven in court in 1973, when two men were charged with Obstructing a Peace Officer in the Yukon Territory Magistrates Court in R. vs Jones and Hubert for their part in removing an impounded dog from an animal control van, contrary to the instructions given to them by an Animal Control Officer of the local municipality. This was the first "Peace Officer" test before a Canadian federal court to determine whether the definition of peace officer in the Criminal Code of Canada can be extended to bylaw officers, as "other persons employed for the preservation of peace." The Honourable Justice O'Connor ruled that the Animal Control Officer was in fact a Peace Officer, under the Criminal Code, but only while in the performance of his duty, and not for the purposes of any activities unrelated to his duties (such as enforcing criminal law). Furthermore, Justice O'Connor highlighted the severity and criminality of obstructing a bylaw officer:
"It was submitted [to me] by the defendants that [they should have been charged under a section of the bylaw for hindering the bylaw officer, and not under the Criminal Code]. Having concluded that Mr. Malloy [the bylaw officer] was a peace officer for Criminal Code purposes, and having concluded that the charge under s. 118 of the Criminal Code applies [now sec. 129], I doubt whether s. 13 of the dog bylaw is intra vires of the council of the City of Whitehorse [in other words, who is or is not a peace officer is not up to municipal governments]. Obstruction of an animal control officer is a matter of criminal law over which the federal government has legislative jurisdiction. ... In any event it is not for the council of the City of Whitehorse to determine who is a peace officer for the purposes of the Criminal Code. That can only be done by Parliament."
Since then, several other court decisions have reaffirmed this ruling: in Moore v R, the Manitoba County Court held that a Poundkeeper was a peace officer within the meaning of Section 2 of the Criminal Code. Most recently, in 2000, in R vs Turko, the Provincial Court of British Columbia ruled that a Capital Regional District (CRD) Bylaw Enforcement Officers were justified in arresting a person for failing to provide identification while engaged in enforcement of an anti-smoking bylaw, as the latter's refusal to provide identification constituted Obstruction of a Peace Officer (contrary to sec. 129 of the Criminal Code). "I conclude," Judge Ehrcke wrote in the judgment against Mr. Turko, "based on the duties the officers in this case were exercising that they were peace officers engaged in their duties when they attempted to enforce the bylaw against the accused. They were maintaining and preserving the public peace." Mr. Turko was convicted of Obstructing of a Peace Officer and Assault on a Peace Officer.
Not only did the Turko decision confirm Bylaw Officers were Peace Officers within the meaning of the Criminal Code, but it held that a bylaw officer had the powers to detain or arrest a person for failing to identify themselves according to section 129.
This was further upheld in Woodward v. Capital Regional District et al. (2005), where two Bylaw Officers used force, including batons, to arrest a person for obstruction. Judge M. Hubbard ruled that Bylaw Officers were justified in arresting a person for failing to provide identification, and in so doing, using whatever reasonable force was necessary to subdue a person.
In Alberta, section 555(1) of the Municipal Government Act states that “A person who is appointed as a bylaw enforcement officer is, in the execution of enforcement duties, responsible for the preservation and maintenance of the public peace”.
Section 15(2) of Ontario's Police Services Act R.S.O. 1990, states "Municipal law enforcement officers are peace officers for the purpose of enforcing municipal by-laws." Similar sections exist in most Provincial Police Acts.
For bylaw officers, this is generally good news, as it means that those persons who may be employed as bylaw officers without having been sworn under provincial acts are nonetheless protected under the Criminal Code definition of Peace Officer. This has somewhat convoluted the process of legally appointing bylaw officers. In British Columbia, for example, a person may be appointed as a Bylaw Officer through the Community Charter, which sets out different powers & responsibilities the Province of BC delegates to municipalities. However, the Provincial Police Act, which sets out various rules pertaining to police structure and administration in BC, also provides a mechanism for appointing bylaw officers.
It is a criminal offense for a person to fail to identify themselves to a bylaw officer in lawful execution of his or her duty (Obstructing a Peace Officer, sec 129 CCC), and a person could be charged with the greater charge of Assaulting a Peace Officer if assault were to occur. As well, instances of someone obstructing a bylaw officer and being charged with Obstruction of a Peace Officer, as well as many cases of Assault of a Peace Officer, have been tested in the courts, as shown in Turko and Jones & Hubert. However, how far the Peace Officer status extends to bylaw officers in other contexts is unclear, and will likely be challenged in the future. Some municipalities now use bylaw officers to stop and inspect commercial vehicles and even for non-criminal enforcement of marijuana grow operations. However, although it is clear that sections on obstruction and assault (for their own protection) apply to bylaw officers, it is unclear to what extent other peace officer powers apply to bylaw officers, particularly in cases where the bylaw officer gives direction to party that disobeys (i.e. the bylaw officer attempts to pull over a vehicle which intentionally fails to stop or gives lawful instructions to someone who then disobeys that instruction). It is also unclear to what extent peace officer status applies to non-proprietary (contract) employees, such as those employed by a security company on contract to a municipality.
Development of the field
Municipalities are under ever-increasing pressure to provide services quickly and cheaply, and many city governments see bylaw officers as attractive cheap alternatives to police for enforcement of non-criminal or less serious issues. As well, police departments themselves are under increased pressures in everything from staffing and finances, to the requirement to conduct police work within an increasingly complex legal framework brought about by increased litigiousness in society and more onerous limits & guidelines imposed on the police in order to protect individual rights and freedoms. As such, police departments are frequently unable or unwilling to perform duties related to the enforcement of non-criminal statutes or municipal bylaws.
Many cities are finding themselves in situations where the police have stopped performing certain duties which they performed in the past. Failure to regulate certain activities in their municipality then creates problems and generates complaints and public frustration. This commonly results in the relegation of this task to bylaw officers.
Because the field developed in such an unusual way, essentially to accommodate changes and professionalization of policing, municipal employees of this class began taking on tasks historically performed by police officers, but without any policing powers or protections under the law. Meter Maids initially serviced parking meters, which had been a fairly new phenomenon in North American cities of the 1950s. Eventually, as traffic police officers only rarely enforced parking meter regulation, the cities required Meter Maids to write parking tickets. By the 1970s, most large municipalities had Meter Maids, who, through the course of the 1980s & the 90's, transformed into Parking Enforcement Officers and were asked to enforce many more regulations than just those pertaining to meters. In recent history, Parking Enforcement Officers are increasingly taking on other duties, and municipalities (for the reasons mentioned above) are amalgamating specialized enforcement into general duty bylaw enforcement.
Because changes of this sort were unplanned, employees performing various classes of bylaw enforcement (parking, animal control, inspection work) frequently performed a duty of an officer of the law or as a person of authority. Since most bylaw officers were not sworn peace officers (and many are still not), the limits of their authority and exact definition of their powers have occasionally faced challenges.
Many provincial and state laws are being changed to help clarify status of non-constabulary bylaw officers. In British Columbia, when the new enabling charter was amended, (called 'Community Charter'), sections specifically referring to bylaw officers were included, including the power of bylaw officers to enter upon private property and investigate without warrant, something police are unable to do. The rationale behind such provisions (approved by the courts) is that bylaw matters are of significant importance to the public welfare (such as verifying that a building was properly constructed or that garbage is not illegally disposed of), yet violations carry only summary convictions (fines, or in most extreme cases, very very small jail terms if the issue is extremely serious and the person does not pay the fine) and are not as serious and deprecatory to a person's reputation and well-being as criminal offences. As such, the courts have determined that such powers are not unreasonable limitations on a person's Charter right of not being subject to "summary searches."
Many provinces have also standardized training for bylaw enforcement officers. The Alberta Municipal Government Act has no requirements for training of Bylaw Officers in Alberta. But formal training is available through the Alberta Municipal Enforcement Association and other organizations. If the person is also appointed as a Community Peace Officer then they are required to go through a 6-week training program at the Alberta Staff College or complete training that has been approved by the Solicitor General’s Office depending on what Provincial Acts are being enforced. The Justice Institute of British Columbia and other private training companies offer specialized courses to those wishing to attain certification in the field in British Columbia.
Sometimes, the enforcement of particular bylaws may be conducted on contract by a private company. Such companies are either highly specialized in a single area of bylaw enforcement (such as animal control in the case of the SPCA), or provide security guards, who are then specially trained to handle specific tasks, usually limited to traffic or parking enforcement. The most recent trend is to recall many of the services previously contracted out and put systems in place to conduct such services in-house. As such, contracting-out is not a great concern in this field.
Today's Bylaw Officers
All of the changes mentioned above have created a class of employees, who previously just handled one task or assignment, such as animal control, who are now engaged in a variety of quasi-police activities, especially enforcement roles that for lack of staffing are not handled by police officers. Contrary to popular belief, although some work conducted by Bylaw Enforcement Officers can be very minor in gravity, such as issuing tickets for expired meters, many of the investigational and enforcement duties conducted by bylaw officers are extremely important and necessary for the well-being of society. Dog attacks, for example, can be very serious events, where people or other animals can be gravely hurt. In most jurisdictions with bylaw officers, investigational work concerning dog attacks is conducted solely by the bylaw officers, without any police involvement. Such work can prevent future attacks, protect society from harm and/or cause an animal to be euthanized and its owners to face severe fines. As well, Bylaw Enforcement Officers care for and protect animals, help mediate neighbourhood disputes, assure public safety by investigating illegal garbage/waste dumping and enforce regulations, the absence of which can severely impact a person's well-being, such as late-night noise from frequent parties that prevents a neighbourhood from sleeping. Furthermore, Bylaw Enforcement Officers are the first line of defense against a physical degradation of a neighbourhood or area, which can start with a broken window, lead to unsightly premises, and soon be littered with garbage, illegal signs, uninsured vehicles and lower real estate values. Bylaw Enforcement is instrumental in preserving well-functioning neighbourhoods and fixing problematic ones.
In the United States, and even in some places in Canada, municipal enforcement personnel can even be found in police and municipal departments providing security to prisoners, guarding court houses, investigating dog fighting or writing parking tickets. This has led to increased police training, and in the United States, arming of these officials. The New York branch of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) employs several animal "cops" who are armed and have policing powers. This arrangement is becoming more common throughout the United States, particularly in larger cities where civilian enforcement personnel have difficulty conducting investigations due to a lack of cooperation from suspects. In Canada, many jurisdictions are training their bylaw personnel in self-defense and control tactics, and issuing equipment such as tactical batons and OC spray. Such changes have also made a career in municipal enforcement more dangerous, requiring more skills and training, and accordingly offering greater compensation. Security clearances have also become the standard requirement, and as such, the process of becoming employed in one of these positions has become more time consuming. This has also made a career in bylaw enforcement more desirable than ever. The Justice Institute of British Columbia reports that courses they offer in Bylaw Enforcement are the most popular and fill up faster than any other. However, this field is growing quickly as municipalities seek to streamline costs and save on policing expenses; as well, many incumbents in the field are older, and due to relatively good municipal pension options, early retirements are possible and therefore prospects for employment in this area are good. Current standards for employment of uniformed bylaw enforcement officers are usually not codified state or province-wide, as flexibility is necessary, but usually include the precondition that candidates have a fairly clean driving record and an ability to pass a criminal records check. As the use of bylaw officers for more complex tasks increases, it is to be expected that standards for the profession will likely become regulated or imposed from a state/provincial governmental body.
- Criminal Code of Canada, sec. 2
- R. vs Jones  5 W.W.R. 197.
- Moore v R  5 W.W.R. 176.
- R. v. Turko (Victoria: 2000)
- R. v. Turko, pp. 10
- R. v. Turko Items 1, 2 & 3
- Woodward v. Capital Regional District et al. (2005) BCPC: Victoria Registry
- R.S.O. 1990, c. P.15, s. 15 (2); 1997, c. 8, s. 13.
- Sec. 264, Community Charter Act of BC http://www.qp.gov.bc.ca/statreg/stat/c/03026_08.htm#part8_division3
- BC Police Act, Section 70: http://www.qp.gov.bc.ca/police/ec36700.htm#70
- R. v. Turko; Woodward v. Capital Regional District
- Survey of Bylaw Officer duties http://liboa.homestead.com/Articles/2008_Province_of_British_Columbia.pdf
- Arkinstall v. City of Surrey http://www.courts.gov.bc.ca/jdb-txt/SC/08/14/2008BCSC1419err2.htm
- ONTARIO ASSOCIATION of PROPERTY STANDARD OFFICERS -OAPSO
- Municipal Law Enforcement Officers Association of Ontario
- License Inspectors & Bylaw Officers' Association of British Columbia
- Pointe-Claire Public security
- Outremont public security
- Île Bizard sécurité publique (french)
- City of Moncton by-law enforcement