NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece from Justice Minister Diana Whalen.
In Nova Scotia, sheriffs work hard every day to keep us safe. Our 235 sheriffs are responsible for court security, civil enforcement and prisoner transport. In rural areas, they also transport money from courts and serve summonses. Their duties can be dangerous and at times they can be exposed to violence. They take their responsibility to serve and protect Nova Scotians very seriously. We too have a duty to keep them and the places where they work safe.
About a year ago, the union representing the province’s sheriffs raised concerns about the safety of their members. They told us that they want more tools to deal with potential violent situations and to improve their safety on the job.
In response to the concerns, my department initiated an independent occupational health and safety review. It examined whether sheriffs are adequately equipped, trained and supported to do their jobs safely. There were 51 recommendations; one being a limited arming of the sheriffs.
The report was thorough and we took the recommendations very seriously. When determining a go forward on the recommendation to arm the sheriffs, we were careful and systematic in our approach. Arming our sheriffs with firearms would be a significant change from the way our sheriffs currently do their jobs and we wanted to be sure our decision was based on research, evidence and facts. Our examination revealed that few other jurisdictions across the country arm their sheriffs. We also discovered through conversations with sheriffs, the courts and our correctional partners that many would like to see alternative measures to firearms explored.
After significant study and review, we are confident we can address the safety concerns raised in the occupational health and safety review and reduce the risk to staff and public using other measures. That plan includes rigorous risk assessment, increasing physical security at courthouses when necessary, using armed police officers when risks are heightened and equipping designated sheriffs with conductive energy weapons, commonly known as Tasers, rather than firearms.
Our plan includes training for 24 deputy sheriffs in the safe use of conductive energy weapons. They will have to meet the same rigorous fitness and mental health standards used by our police services. My department will also continue to work closely with occupational health and safety experts to ensure that our plan achieves the right balance between workplace and public safety and addressing the concerns of our sheriffs.
Identification of candidates and testing is occurring now. Training for the sheriffs is expected to begin by May, with implementation of the new safety measures beginning in the summer.
The purpose of arming the sheriffs with conductive energy weapons is to ensure that officers are able to protect themselves, the facilities, clients and staff they serve from significant or immediate threats. We are confident that our approach will achieve these requirements.
I want to sincerely thank our sheriffs for the work they do every day to keep our communities safe. We did not take this decision lightly and we are committed to providing additional tools, supports and resources to help keep our staff and the public safe.
Media Contact: Chrissy Matheson