The Caped Cearnsader's Everyday Heroes...A day in the life of Scugog Bylaw Officer Denise Stephenson
DAN CEARNS The Standard
SCUGOG: Ever since her high school days, Denise Stephenson has wanted to be involved in law enforcement. So, she is happy she is currently employed as a Township of Scugog Municipal Law Enforcement Officer.
“I love it. I get to meet all kinds of people. 99 per cent of the time, the experiences are fantastic,” she told The Standard. “Contrary to what people think, enforcement is about helping people. While the law is black and white, the grey comes in how you work to help people, how you get people to the point you need them to be in.”
She also spoke about what it takes to be a bylaw officer.
“In order to do this type of job, you have to like people, which sounds a little counter-intuitive, because a lot of times when we are going out to see people, similar to the police, is when they need you. We are out in the community, trying to help people with issues and trying to educate people on what they can and can’t do,” she said. “The first step would be college, Durham [College] has a great police foundations course, and a lot of the colleges do across Ontario, and that’s a great start. And then just being ready to take whatever you can get, you need to get your foot in the door. Most people start in bylaw enforcement, by working in larger communities in parking enforcement. Here in Scugog, the department are generalists, we enforce all bylaws, but in larger communities like Toronto they are specialists.”
She also said there are courses aspiring bylaw officers need to take from the Municipal Law Enforcement Association and the Ontario Association of Property Standards Officers.
She also noted that it helps to stay in relatively good shape.
“There’s absolutely a physical component to it. You are out there, and you are walking in 40 degree weather in your vest and all your gear, and you could have to be picking things up, cleaning up an area, slogging through snow. You definitely need to be in shape to do the job.”
Every day is different for a municipal law enforcement officer.
“One thing that I like about bylaw is there is no such thing as typical. Every day changes. We’ll come in for the day, check voicemail, check email. Most of our complaints come in through email. We’ll make a listing of anything new that’s come in, do any necessary administrative work behind the scenes, before we attend a property, and then we’ll make our list of inspections,” Ms. Stephenson explained. “The day can be anything from new inspections for new concerns that come in, [and/or] following up on old inspections to see where a particular property is at correcting a situation and getting a property back into compliance. Then [she comes] back [to the Township office] to do updates and notes, and while we are here we also respond to any walk in questions and concerns.”
She added “being respectful and understanding of people’s situations” will help people have success at the job.
“There’s the odd time you will get someone yelling a not so nice comment, but probably for every one of those, there’s two or three people going ‘thank you for doing this’.”
Ms. Stephenson thinks the toughest part of her job is having to work in all types of environments.
“It gets really tough when you have to be out in -20 or -30 [degree weather] writing parking tickets, or doing a patrol in the middle of the summer wearing full gear and a heavy vest when it’s 30, 35 degrees out, that to me is the toughest part of the job.”
She also sees education as the most important part of her job.
“[Bylaws are] really not simple to the average person, who is not looking at the legal side of it every day,” Ms. Stephenson explained. “Always, the first step is education. Helping people to understand what the regulations are, and why they are in place, and then working with them to find a solution, and creating a timeframe to have it rectified.”
She stressed the importance of Scugog’s winter parking restrictions, that are now in place, which don’t allow drivers to park on Scugog roads and on the shoulder between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
“That doesn’t seem like a big thing to a lot of people, but when snow removal is required, and no one can get down a street because the plows couldn’t get around the cars, that’s important,” Ms. Stephenson said. “A lot of what we hear is ‘but it’s not snowing.’ My answer is, by the time it’s snowing, it’s too late. The vehicles need to be gone, need to be off the road so that when it snows, the plows can safely maneuver and clean. It’s really a safety issue.”
The Standard was given an opportunity to experience a parking enforcement sweep with Ms. Stephenson. While there wasn’t any non-compliant vehicles found during that time, she said it depends on the time of day how many vehicles they find parked illegally.
“The school areas are a difficult zone, more so at the beginning of the day and the end of the day, pickup and drop off [times],” she said. “After school there is a lot [of violations] around some of the schools. We spend a lot of time just trying to get traffic to move on.”
She also said some people don’t exactly understand the definition of parking.
“What people don’t understand is parking doesn’t mean pulling up, turning off and getting out of your vehicle. Just the act of pulling up, stopping and sitting there constitutes as parking, even if you are in the vehicle and the vehicle is running.”
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Is a reporter for The Standard Newspaper, so if you see him, feel free to say hello. You can follow Dan on Twitter at @dancearnsy