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 signeage 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 Signeage 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 debree, 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.
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.
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. 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.
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. Alberta requires incumbents to these positions to go through courses at the Peace Officer training college, while the Justice Institute of British Columbia offers specialized courses to those wishing to attain certification in the field.
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.
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.