LETTERS

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policeline 560Dear Editor,

In regards to what appears to be increasing interest by the public in procuring a costing estimate from the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to provide service to Saugeen Shores, please permit me a couple of comments that come from some significant experience on the periphery of policing in this community.

Over the period of my 43 years living here in Saugeen Shores, I have spent a number of terms serving on the various Police Commissions and Police Service Boards in Port Elgin, Southampton-Port Elgin, and then the Saugeen Shores Police Services Board. I served as the ambulance service provider on the Huron lakeshore for a number of years, affording me a unique perspective of emergency services that we provide locally. And in the interest of complete disclosure, I currently serve as the Director of the Community Watch Program in our towns, which gives me a frontline view of the activity with which police service is involved daily. It can be said that I have a huge prejudice on the policing issue slanted to local service, and my response to that is, “You bet!”

The quality of the police services that we are receiving is superb, and I challenge anyone to prove that policing from any other source would be or could be at an equivalent level. Our officers have always been carefully selected for their high levels of expertise, many times gained from experience in larger services elsewhere.

Our staff has been hand-picked by local people serving on these boards and selection panels for the high standards that they have attained and brought to us. Most of them have chosen to reside and raise their children in our fine community, and have “bought-in” on every level to the superb quality of life that we all enjoy here in Saugeen Shores. By relocating their families to our community, these officers have assumed an important stake in all our lives.
Service standards are set by the local Police Services Board, and the chief of the service is required to meet those standards in providing service.

Those boards consist of people tightly tied to our community who have always taken great care in determining the level of service that would be appropriate. Therefore, the question is not, “What is the cost of policing?” or “Who do we want to police us?” but rather “What services do we not want to have provided?”

If the community is uncomfortable with what they view as an unnecessarily costly or complicated level of policing, the way to challenge that is to indicate which services they would like our police service to forego? Would they prefer to eliminate our drug officers? Would they prefer a lesser level of patrol at night? Would they like to see school and youth officers released and their programs eliminated? Would they prefer to have a call-out system at night that would result in major response delays or would they do away with criminal investigation officers?

Anything is possible, but is always absolutely tied to cost. The Police Services Board would be happy to listen to any input.

The fact is that an OPP constable’s annual salary and benefits package is considerably richer than the levels paid to our people, with an even greater disparity for higher ranks. Basic mathematics indicates that it would be absolutely impossible to replicate our levels of service by replacing our officers with OPP officers from a salary scale perspective. That is simply an implausible premise.

In the OPP scenario, Saugeen Shores could become a recruit training-ground. Our current officers with specialized skills could be transferred to other duties elsewhere in the province, while newer officers could regularly circulate in and out of our community. Police service boards attached to OPP contracts are virtually toothless in terms of implementing policy. All policy that would be in place is that set by the OPP, and little is left for local input or negotiation.

Like Deputy-Mayor Charbonneau, I am, on principle, highly opposed to ceding any more control to Queen’s Park. I, for one, am tired of having parameters for my life being established by someone in Toronto who perhaps has never even visited Saugeen Shores, let alone understands local needs and aspirations. To lose control of our local policing is another notch in the tree that I view to be extremely damaging to life in small-town and rural Ontario. And once this is done, it becomes permanent. There is no way to un-do it.

And with great respect for an old friend, it has been twenty-odd years since former Mayor Knechtel has been in office, and within that period many things have changed. We really cannot compare the current operational complexities of policing services, or any other municipal service for that matter, in terms of today’s ever-changing and demanding conditions from what they were two decades ago.

Aside from igniting the potentially morale-damaging process of a bid consideration, it is important to know that there is a two-year wait just to get on the list for consideration, followed by a process of another two years to work through the huge volumes of detail required, then by another six months for consideration and negotiation.

In the final analysis, a firm, detailed and permanent contract with the municipality would not be tendered by the OPP for confirmation by Saugeen Shores Council until they have the “experience” of three years operation after implementing service. Our municipality will be billed according to their costs, regardless of a negotiated contract. It is safe to say that comparative numbers would not be available for comparison until the year 2020 at the earliest. How can anyone seriously consider buying anything on that basis?

It needs to be said that I have the utmost respect for the men and women of the OPP. They form a premier- class law enforcement entity that is respected world-wide. You get what you pay for. But when it comes to providing our community with professional police services on our streets, I’ll line up with Chief Rivett and his fine staff every time.

W. Kent Milroy,
A proud and concerned resident of Saugeen Shores

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