After community leaders spent a few months in talks with RCMP and government officials, watchmen of Little Pine Security made their first round of patrols on the night of Friday, Feb. 16.
Little Pine Security is one phase toward eventually establishing an independent police force on Little Pine First Nation and nearby Poundmaker Cree Nation.
Richard Checkosis is the Little Pine councillor in charge of the justice portfolio, among other duties. He said he hopes the security force will “take our reserve back from crime we’ve seen in the past few years,” including what he calls “big city crime.”
The goal of the security force is to patrol the reserve, keep an eye on public buildings, such as the new band office and the school, and check on elders who are home alone. Checkosis said security guards have the training to detain, but their role is to surveil, report, protect scenes if crimes occur, and call police if needed.
“We don’t want these guys in any danger at all,” Checkosis said.
Community members, leaders and elders have found crime to be a persistent problem, including thefts, alcohol and drug-related crime, and even murders.
Accessing police has also been a problem. There are two RCMP members on reserve, along with a detachment in Cut Knife.
Elder Jacob Pete is a former RCMP chief of police who has been leading the talks to establish self-administered policing. One repeated problem at Little Pine has been delayed response times to 9-1-1 calls.
Pete said he heard a story at an elder’s meeting.
“Someone was stealing from an elder’s car,” Pete said. “He phoned 9-1-1 and he kept it marked on his calendar. It was one year and four days they went to check on him.
“Hopefully we can prevent some of that stuff from taking that long.”
There are currently five security guards (watchmen), who work 12-hour shifts from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m.
Pete said security being visible in the community should also deter crime. “Providing a high profile patrolling presence” is the first responsibility listed on a job description of security guards. The social aspect of security is also noted, including “being approachable” and communicating effectively.
A second phase of self-administered policing will be establishing positions resembling community safety officers, but Pete said not everything that community safety officers elsewhere are responsible for, particularly traffic control, necessarily apply to Little Pine. Pete said he hopes the second phase will also allow officers to enforce minor Criminal Code offences.
Alvin Nighttraveller is a guard with Little Pine Security. He recently completed training in Saskatoon. Training consisted of a week-long course for eight hours per day. Pete said additional training would be supplemented by online courses.
Nighttraveller said training included going over the types of crimes that occur at a place like Little Pine, how to handle situations, and even training pertaining to bomb threats.
“I enjoyed it,” Nighttravller said of the course. “There was lots to learn.”
Nighttraveller is also chief of Little Pine’s volunteer fire department. Checkosis said grassfires have been a problem, and there is a fire truck, in addition to a security truck, on reserve.
Some First Nations police forces have had trouble establishing themselves in the past. Checkosis and Pete say officials have been willing to consult, particularly the RCMP in Cut Knife.
Pete said self-administered police efforts come from a desire by chief and elders to return to traditional practices, such as restorative justice, which Pete said informs Little Pine community policing.
“Our role here is to backtrack to what we had in terms of our security traditionally,” Pete said. “We had a system that worked. And that’s where our concept of community policing comes from.”
A restorative justice approach, Pete said, might involve reconciling two families if they got into a disagreement with one another.
Pete said Little Pine isn’t waiting for anybody to solve the First Nation’s problems.
“We’re trying to do it ourselves,” Pete said.