Repercussions in Perth South discussed due to St....
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Feb 16, 2017  |  Vote 0    0

Repercussions in Perth South discussed due to St. Marys' swap to Stratford Police

OPP brass assure councillors their contract model translates into effective policing

SIDEBAR

ROUNDABOUT 'STRATEGY' NEEDED

With Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation planning the conversion to a roundabout of one more intersection along Highway 7 between Stratford and St. Marys, the Township of Perth South and the Perth County detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) are hoping to learn from past experience if and when construction begins.

During a meeting of Township Council on Tuesday, Feb. 7, Director of Public Works Ken Bettles said he has met with the OPP to discuss a strategy to be implemented by the municipality and police force for the next roundabout construction.

Over the past three years, three intersections along Highway 7 have been converted to roundabouts. The first two were in the extreme south end of the township, and one project in particular (Oxford Road 119/Perth Road 118) saw almost all detour traffic rerouted away from Perth County entirely.

The most recent conversion, however, occurred during the summer and fall of 2016 at Perth Line 20 (Klomps Corner). This is in the middle of Perth South, and detour traffic was rerouted through Perth South along Perth Road 113 (Embro Road).

OPP detachment commander, Inspector Rob Scott, was at the Feb. 7 meeting. He confirmed police are anticipating the next edition of Highway 7 roundabout construction — announced but not yet confirmed by the MTO for Perth Line 26 (D&S Downham corner). And he agreed with Bettles that proper planning by police and the township should alleviate some of the challenges that arose in 2016.

One of the most significant, Scott explained, was motorists choosing not to use the MTO-approved detour route and instead making their way through numerous Stop signs and stretches of gravel surface along Road 122. Many of those motorists, he said, failed to heed the Stop sign in St. Pauls.

Another big problem was people getting lost while trying to navigate the non-MTO-sanctioned detour. Often, they would call the OPP for assistance — something Scott definitely discourages.

Councillor Jim Aitcheson agreed motorists often found themselves disoriented during the Perth Line 20 construction.

“I saw so many people sitting on the side of the road on their phones, trying to figure out where to go,” he said.

If a strategy is being put together, the councillor added, more frequent and more effective signage must be included.

St. Marys Journal Argus

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.

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