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Many questions raised around possible new police building
by Sandy Lindsay

July 21, 2016
www.saugeentimes.com

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(L-R) Art Knechtel, Dan Rivett (Saugeen Shores Police Chief) and Luke Charbonneau (Police Services Board Chair)

Approximately 80 residents turned out for the first of two public meetings to hear about and discuss Saugeen Shores Police Service building.

Police Chief Dan Rivett has been open with concerns about the lack of space in the existing building and, in January, advised Council and the Police Services board of the on-going deficiencies in the building.

Luke Charbonneau

Chair of Police Services Board & Chair of the Facilities Committee

Chair Luke Charbonneau said that Chief Rivett's letter laid everything out to the point where the Police Services Board had to look at a more comprehensive solution.

In June, the Board appointed three members from the public and one from the Police Association to come up with recommendations for Council following consultation with the public.

Chief Rivett explained that, when the existing building was constructed in 2000, the footprint had been reduced by the then-Council from a recommended 10,000 square feet to 6,000 sq. ft.  In 2009, the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services inspected the building and reported that the space was inadequate to accommodate police services.

According to Chief Rivett, the nature of crime has become "... much more complex" and is anticipated to increase as the population grows.  "When dealing with crime related to things like prostitution and sexual abuse, there is a real possibility of cross-contamination of evidence as we simply do not have the necessary space and, when that happens, the evidence cannot be used."

In addition, a major concern is the secure storage of evidence and confidential information.  With the lack of space, police have been forced to store some evidence in a locked facility off-site, which according to the Ministry, is inappropriate.  "There are records with personal information that must be retained indefinitely and, therefore, must be secure.  The building is a mess.  It is falling down around us and is way too small.  We have no room to put anything including the people."

When the public was invited to offer comments, Art Knechtel, former Mayor of Southampton and former Chair of the Police Commission, came forward with his views.  "Something has to be done.  We can talk forever.  We have to pick up the pieces and move on. I am really disappointed with the public that they haven't gone to see the situation for themselves.  The conditions are deplorable.  Policing is expensive and is an important business but it's a necessity."

Knechtel said that he and Chief Rivett have a vision for the future and "... we are both on the same path that something has to be done - not in the future but today.  Our visions however are not the same.  If you're going to build a building for that much money, you have to explore all the options. We don't  need to hire a consultant ... it's just an excuse to not make a decision."

"The decision that this Council makes is the most important decision that you (councilors) will ever make," he added, "for the future of Saugeen Shores.  This should be started now and ready for next year's budget."

While he fully supported the Police Service and Chief Dan Rivett, at the end he also suggested that "It's time to move to OPP policing.  The Ministry has cut back funding and compensation because we are a private (municipal) police force.  I think the Province is telling us to move on ... that this is the only municipal force in the chain ... look at Kincardine with the same footprint as we have ... their cost is $1.3million less than ours.  I worry about the future and the bill.  The province does it with its purse strings and cuts off the money."

At the end, Knechtel agreed with two options ... Chief Rivett's Option #1 - build a stand-alone building or go OPP.  If it's Option #1, it should be done now."

 

Art Knechtel

"People talk in coffee shops but they never show up for a public meeting ... but they do have beliefs and thoughts and opinions.  The only way to find out is to hold a plebiscite and let the people decide.  It's their money!"

Chief Dan Rivett responded that the public meeting was about a facility and not a change in policing.  "That's a decision for the community and Council to make.  What some people don't realize is that the OPP would look at this building and say 'no thanks' .  They will build their own building and present a bill to the town.  The OPP buildings are around $7.2 Million.  Their standards are different.  Over the years, community and Council have supported the municipal option and I think will continue to do so."

Rivett said that there has been a high satisfaction rating in the community and " ... the need for a new building is not a surprise to anybody, or shouldn't be if they've been listening for the last eight to 10 years.  We need a new larger building to continue to provide the police servicing and some sort of option will be decided upon by Council. "

Sgt. Dave Butcher

Fourteen year veteran, Saugeen Shores Police Sgt. Dave Butcher was off duty when he decided to add his views. 

 "We came here tonight to talk about the building and not whether we should go OPP.  All you have to do is take a drive around the area to Walkerton, Kincardine, Bruce Peninsula, Teviotdale and see the beautiful new OPP stations and I've been in most of them.  They are outstanding facilities and three times the size of ours. So, if you're looking at going OPP as a cost savings as opposed to a new building, I don't think that's an avenue to go.  As far as OPP costing, statistics on-line don't tell the whole story.  They have a very complicated formula for costings and it's re-evaluated over time. It's difficult to compare numbers as far as costs."

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 "What I wanted to say however," he continued, "is that this is an outstanding place to work and we have a great bunch of people.  People have to realize that these officers are hand-selected and are chosen by members of the service, the Chief, the Inspector, members of the Board and members of the public.  Each is interviewed before they are hired here.  The OPP however send you where they want to send you and, if somebody puts in for a transfer that's where they go.  As far as these officers and myself are not worried.  If we went OPP, we would all have a job.  They get better pay and better benefits than us and, if I wanted to be OPP, I would have joined the OPP.  I'm here because I want to be here ... it's what all the officers would tell you.  The level of commitment from the officers here is not the same as you would get from the OPP.  We interact and work with them.  At night, they have two officers per detachment ... Walkerton, Kincardine and Bruce Peninsula and that's to cover the whole county - a vast area for six officers.  Therefore, it's not uncommon to wait hours for a response to a collision.  That just doesn't happen with us.  Although it's not what is being discussed here tonight, you have to have all the facts and all the information before you go down that road."

Mike Gallagher, a resident, said that he had been in the police services building several times and the conditions are as described.  "Let's get new plans and drawings made up for whatever option.  Let's just do it.  We need to move forward and not dwell on the past.  This would not have come to a head if the Chief had not pushed for it and that doesn't give me much faith when it come to the Police Services Board, the Town Council or the community.  These drawings are now more than six years old and the money that went into them is wasted.  All new drawings will have to be done  ... it also poses the question, what else has Council been delaying on.  Perhaps, those who delayed over the last number of years, should give some hard thought that they are representing the town and not just there to make a popular decision to get elected.  If this was your own home, you would not do this with your house.  It would have been fixed a long time ago. Move forward and get it done as quickly as possible. Don't waste any more time or money."

Jim Stark of Southampton said that one of the hardest jobs is to keep the morale up of people who work under you and it's difficult when the working conditions are terrible.  "The Chief has done an excellent job to the point that when officers are on vacation they still have the attitude of serve and protect their community.  We experienced that on the Trent-Severan waterway when my family was rescued by Officer Mulholland and Officer Cook who came to our rescue when they were on vacation and I know that comes from the training and high degree of morale.  Past Councils dropped the ball."


Bruce Fenton

(former Fire Chief)

 

Bruce Fenton was the former Fire Chief when the Town offices, Plex and Police Services were built.  " I remember former Chief Paul Brown tell the architect that they needed more room.  From the time that building was put into service, it was apparent that it wasn't adequate in size or even designed to be a police building.  After moving in, the training officers had to use the fire hall for training.   As far as OPP,  when I was Fire Chief, I had direct communications with the police and if it was the middle of the night, I could contact dispatch or police directly and they would be there immediately and not wait an hour for OPP.  They looked after fire scenes as we did our job.  If you are talking a new build either way, OPP will be much more expensive.  I support a new stand alone building.  It was undersized when built and it's time to fix it now."

 

Councilor and Vice Chair of the Police Services Board, Dave Myette, said that it's a big decision and they will have to convince their colleagues on Council as to the right decision.  "It's going to come down to money.  Previous Council only had so much money and that's why it was trimmed back.  If you build a building, it should be for at least 50 years.  I only hope as many people come out on August 17th to the meeting in Southampton."

Ken Robertson

Ken Robertson, former Hamilton Police Chief, sits as a member of the public on the Facilities Committee and, upon moving to Saugeen Shores, helped with strategic planning and Environmental Scanning.  "We looked at the external environment of the community and internal environment of the Service.  I'm proud to say that we have one of the most outstanding police organizations, for a medium sized small town in the Province, if not the country.  We are getting good value for what we pay for.  We aren't high or we aren't low.  Where we are really fortunate is that we have a wonderful Chief of Police and we have dedicated police officers.  I feel safe in this community and I'm proud to live in this community.  Also, remember ... a police service is an asset that has an economic benefit to a community.  Good policing means a community is attractive and delivers a safe community so that businesses come to a community where there's safety through good policing.  Citizens who want to retire want to come to a community that's safe with good policing and a Police Services Board.  My experience is that we are very fortunate to have a great police service and Chief."

"The building was built undersized," said Charbonneau, "and I think  the Board is very keen to not repeat the same mistake.  From the Board's perspective, if we can build a new facility that will stand the test of time, then it should be done."

If the first public meeting is an indication of the public at large, it appears that most are in support of a new police building.  The next public meeting is August 17th, at Southampton's Town Hall.


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