A surprise motion creates considerable debate at the budget table on policing

by Sandy Lindsay

November 16, 2016

Town Council

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Just as the Saugeen Shores Operations Budget meeting was drawing to a close on Tuesday, November 15th, Southampton Councilor, Don Matheson, brought forward a motion to direct staff to hire a consultant to do a study on OPP policing versus the local Saugeen Shores Service.

The motion appeared to take most of the Councilors by surprise.

A recent survey conducted through a variety of sources that included local media, mail-outs and phone, found that 72 per cent of respondents were in favour of maintaining a local police service.

"This has been an on-going question of yes or no," said Matheson. "For the record, I am in total support of our Police force but I believe we must look at what the cost and services between the two are and so I have a motion to direct staff to hire an objective police services consultant to research and provide a report on OPP policing costs and services in communities that are comparable to provide a meaningful, qualitative and quantitative assessment.  I would ask that the cost be included in the budget."

Deputy Mayor Luke Charbonneau questioned if the request of staff was something that was even possible as the only way to assess what the OPP would charge would be to ask the OPP.  "I'm not sure if it's possible to ask a third party to do an assessment and come back with a qualitative assessment of what you're going to get."

Charbonneau said to Council that if it's how the members feel and that, if they were not willing to contract the OPP in the final outcome, then they shouldn't just do it to say they've done it.  "That isn't a good enough reason," said Charbonneau, "particularly because of the disruption that such an impact would create by drawing into any kind of question this Council's support of its police service ."

"I would say," he added, "that if you (Council) pull the trigger on this, you send a signal. If you think that moving forward is to get a costing on OPP, but it isn't really your view, then do not pull this trigger just to tell a few people in the community that you've done it, because this will create significant disruption. It will not be worth it, if right from the start, we don't ever believe that we will do this (move to OPP).  From my own perspective, this is something I will never do under any circumstance because I do not trust this province of Ontario (government). I will not support the motion."

Councilor Cheryl Grace said however, that as far as disruption is concerned, "... it is already here.  The way I see it, this is not asking for an OPP costing.  It is hiring a consultant who would be looking at six to eight municipalities that have gone to the OPP over the last 10 years and see what their experience has been in terms of what is the level of service, how did their costs change up or down because at this point we have only heard hearsay and we don't have definitive facts."

"To get an OPP costing that's a reliable projection into the future," added Grace, "is unacceptably likely and I don't think you can even get a reliable figure until you've gone three years past the acceptance and transition.  I see this as a way though of recognizing for those people in our community who are very concerned about this, to be able to say to them that we are looking at this issue and we are hearing you and not just dismissing your views without hearing what you are saying.  To me, this is a good way of doing it." 

Councilor Dave Myette explained that he has developed a great deal of fidelity toward the Saugeen Shores Police Service, having gone through collective bargaining through the Association and he has no doubt that they do an excellent job of maintaining community safety.

"I've also had the opportunity over the past couple of years, as a member of the Police Services Board, to go to a number of OAPSB (Ontario Association of Police Services Boards) meetings where we have the opportunity to rub elbows and share experiences with other police boards, both OPP and local. When you talk to OPP Section 10, they are most envious of the direct control that our board has on our Police Service."

He went on to say that, "When you talk to some who were previously (local) and have gone to OPP, more often than not, there is an expression of regret and remorse and loss of control and an expression of awe at the price and service changes that take place.  Those types of things are really going to be the determining factor.  The dollar figure is something that seems to be gaining the focus of this Council and public debate and, to me, the determining factor is what is best for the community. At this point in time, to me, is what is best for the community is a municipal force but there is a hue and cry for some comparison.  That comparison needs to take into account all the changes that will take place if we go to a provincially mandated and directed force and it's only through a study such as this that will bring the factors to the forefront.  The people who are making the noise about this are focusing purely on a dollar figure.  So, I think this is a reasonable compromise and it would take considerable convincing for me to go to an OPP model but I think in order to get the information into the public sphere this is the way we have to do it."

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 Councilor John Rich alluded to the recent community survey and the 72 per cent that were in favour of local policing and he felt that that number would not change as a result of a study.  "So this study is an opportunity to put this issue to bed.  It puts us in a position where we can make a decision about what levels of service we want and how policing should look in this community and what different services could provide."

"For instance," he added, "consider dispatching that could be done locally. That all has to be part of the conversation and that's why I am in favour of this (study).  Costing of the OPP would take two years in the queue and then two years to get it done and then three years before anything is done. I know people don't want this linked to the new building that we will eventually end up building and that will service another police force if we go in that direction but I'm convinced this study will show that the service we receive here is good value for our money and give us an opportunity to keep local people here and control our own community."

"I am not in favour of setting out to get OPP pricing and kicking tires when we find out we are only going to stay with local policing anyway. The other side of it is that I have received numerous calls on pricing and ... so this is a good step.  I think if we can go to six or eight communities that now have OPP and talk to them about the OPP cost versus when they had their own force, talks to them about what it is today and if they would go back to local policing if they could ... then that might be a good step," said Councilor Mike Myatt.  "I think we will be staying with the local police but I have not problem endorsing this motion."

Finally, it was Mayor Mike Smith's turn to comment.  "I, too, have talked to many people.  I say to them this is not about dollars.  I hadn't made up my mind before but I have now.  I struggle with how you get a fair comparison. I would prefer, and the Chief has done it, to ask the community what it wants.  According to the survey, 72 per cent of people support a local police force and I agree with the Deputy Mayor.  This has been disruptive and I think unnecessarily so.  Like many issues, there is much misinformation that spreads around and it's unfortunate.  I can recall the time when we went through restructuring at the County level and it was suggested then that we go to a 'County police force' and decided then that we did not want to lose our force"

"I agree with the Deputy Mayor.  If you go down this road, what are you looking for?  If it's just money, I will tell you that the very first thing will be for them to say, 'we can do it for less' but that's not a good comparison and that's not fair to the community. Once it's gone, it's gone. I am very happy with our local police force and I think they do a fabulous job in our community.  I will not support the motion."

At the very end, Vice Deputy Mayor Diane Huber, said that she was surprised when the motion was brought forward.  "I've heard that's it's about money but it's also about service. I would really  like something that says to me what are the service levels that have been adjusted.  I would like someone independent to go and collect all that information and put it in a package.  I think it would show us we don't have an issue here but until we have that package we do have an issue. I just want to get some information and as a member of Council it is the due diligence that I am supposed to give to an issue and in absence of valid information by an independent source, I'm struggling which way to go.  I agree with the motion."

Before the motion could be called for a vote, Councilor John Rich said that, in his opinion, this was a very big issue.  "Like most big issues, it comes through as a notice of motion.  Is this not something that we can say let's bring this forward to Council?  There are going to be people who will want to have something to say."

The CAO, David Smith, advised to defer the motion to give staff the time to "... scope out what would be entailed and the costs that might be involved and so that a proper consulting firm could be chosen to be brought to Council."

The motion was deferred. 

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016