It was, in the words of Contract Policing Analyst Sergeant Kevin Hummel of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), “the elephant in the room” on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at Perth South’s municipal headquarters in St. Pauls. And it was clear there are concerns within Township Council about the possible repercussions in Perth South of a recent decision by the Town of St. Marys to move away from OPP service.
“Will there be changes as a result of (the Town’s) decision that could possibly take OPP (patrol) cars out of our area?” asked Councillor Sam Corriveau, during a regular Council meeting at which Hummel joined Inspector Rob Scott, commander for the OPP’s Perth County detachment, in making a presentation and answering questions.
Of particular concern to Corriveau is Perth Road 130 (or the “Centre Line” or “Avonton Road” depending on who you talk to). He noted Perth County officers posted to St. Marys are currently required to check in at the detachment’s Sebringville headquarters before beginning their shift; Road 130 is the route they most often take to get to the town, making them available at least while they’re en route to patrol a well-travelled stretch of Perth South roadway.
Scott responded, “I can’t foresee” any decrease in patrols along Road 130 after Stratford Police take over public safety and law enforcement in St. Marys in early 2018. In part, that’s because past experience for the Perth County detachment reveals traffic offences such as speeding and failing to stop for Stop signs are common along the route.
The same holds true for areas of Perth South to the south and east of St. Marys — where, according to Scott, Highway 7 motorists have also shown themselves prone to speeding and distracted driving.
“We’re still obligated to provide patrols of the roadways and highways,” he reminded councillors, adding they shouldn’t “be too concerned about our coverage and patrols in this area.”
Asked how many officers are stationed in Perth South at any given time, Scott said it’s possible no officer is actually situated inside the township. Or it’s possible, if an incident has occurred, that several officers have been called into the township to assist those who responded first.
He stressed, though, that an officer is available at all times of day or night to respond within a reasonable time to a call within the township. If they need to leave the area — such as when they make an arrest and the person has mental health issues requiring a trip to a hospital — another officer in a nearby jurisdiction is made available.
“The calls will dictate where our officers need to be sent,” the detachment commander said, “(but) as a general rule, we assign officers to patrol zones which include Perth South.”
Hummel said it’s not surprising the Town of St. Marys decided to look into alternative options.
“Everybody’s looking to save money,” he commented. “And don’t get me wrong. I know there’s a common theme through a lot of the questions you’re asking, too.”
But the OPP did its own analysis of the cost of policing per property in Stratford versus rural areas such as Perth South, Hummel said, and he assured Perth South Council the provincial force offers good value.
For 2014 in Stratford, he estimated, the average cost per property was $688. In 2015 for a rural area like Perth South, by contrast, the OPP’s estimate was $357 per average property. And this cost per property in rural areas has been “fairly static” over the past few years, he added.
Enhanced reporting requested
Perth South Mayor Bob Wilhelm believes there hasn’t been a good level of reporting back to the township by the Perth County detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police, (OPP), regarding the cost Perth South must pay for police services.
“We have to, as a council, look at all costs, and all services, and what it’s costing us for those services . . . And that’s why we’ve asked you here today,” Wilhelm told Inspector Rob Scott, detachment commander for the Sebringville-based detachment, prior to his presentation on Tuesday, Feb. 7 to a regular meeting of Perth South Council.
Perth South has no formal contract with the OPP. As such, the province-wide force is obligated to provide the municipality with a base level of public safety and enforcement as set out in legislation, and to bill the township based on calls for service.
Wilhelm noted that, if there’s an increase in the amount the township is asked to pay for police coverage, it’s logical to assume crime is increasing.
“When we don’t get reporting back from the OPP, we can only assume based on the numbers we’re seeing,” the mayor commented.
But Scott responded this isn’t necessarily the case. And that’s partly because, over the past few years, there has been a heightened emphasis at OPP headquarters in Orillia on the “analytics” of policing — keeping track of types of offences and calls for service, and subsequently redirecting a detachment’s resources towards the more often-occurring incidents.
He told councillors that statistics for charges laid by the Perth County detachment show just over 4,000 under the Highway Traffic Act in 2016, compared to 5,300 the year previous. Traffic offences covered under the Criminal Code, though, rose in 2016 from the previous year, going from 93 to 123. (These include impaired driving and stunt driving.)
Non-traffic related criminal offences also rose from 2015 to 2016 in the Perth County OPP coverage area, going from 662 to 833. Scott cited drug-related offences as the top category covered by this statistic.
As a result, there were fewer revenue-raising traffic tickets handed out in 2016 — the type of tickets “usually (given) to soccer moms or dads who are late for the game,” the detachment commander suggested — and more criminal charges laid. This altered focus, he said, came about because of analytics supplied through Orillia, and is “much more conducive to public safety.”
“We’re not in the business of generating revenue,” he reminded councillors. “Just to write tickets for the sole purpose of revenue is not what the police are here to do.”
In response to Wilhelm’s concern, though, Scott pledged to work with the township to ensure more timely and complete reporting of police activities in Perth South. Since there is no formal contract, there’s no requirement for a Police Services Board. But a structure can be created whereby regular updates are provided, and he encouraged Perth South to create such a framework.
Reporting back about crime levels is one thing, but Councillor Jim Aitcheson told Scott he would also like to see more timely bookkeeping from the OPP about its annual bill, so the township can include that figure in its budget planning. He noted the OPP typically provides a reconciliation to its bill based on calls for service numbers from the previous year, and if those calls turn out to have decreased when all the numbers are finally entered into the bookkeeping system, sometimes the township can be in for financial savings compared to the budgeted amount.
Contract Policing Analyst Sergeant Kevin Hummel, who accompanied Scott for the Feb. 7 meeting, responded the OPP is working on speeding up those reconciliations. “With the amount of municipalities we have, we’re doing our best to get those adjustments out as soon as possible.”
In nearby West Perth, there is a contract with Perth County OPP, including an enhancement to the basic level of service available with a contract. A sergeant and one administrative staff are stationed in a Mitchell location full time.
“Some municipalities like the enhanced model but I can tell you the majority of areas in your region have the base level” if they have contracts, Scott told councillors. This means police have obligations regarding community safety, patrol, enforcement, and the training that officers require to provide those services.
Under Perth South’s non-contract base level of service, the township is not eligible to apply for provincial government subsidies for hosting additional Reducing Impaired Driving Everywhere (RIDE) roadside checks. But the detachment does do in excess of one RIDE program per week in the township, Scott said, under the basic model.