By Steven Starr
After a proposal from the Owen Sound Police Service, Meaford is exploring its policing options. In part two of a three part series, retired OPP officer Steven Starr analyzes the proposal, and compares it to current service provided by the OPP.
At first glance the pitch from Owen Sound appears to be cheaper; however, it will take much more than a quick look to determine if that is truly the case. A quoted price is a starting point, but a close examination of the details in the proposal will determine whether it is truly cheaper than the policing currently provided in the Municipality of Meaford.
Is the level of service the same?
The figures being put forth are $2.2 million for OPP and $1.8 million for the OSPS. Before you accept that there is $400,000 in savings upfront you should be aware of some very important numbers. Previous OPP contracts have included 11 front line officers and a minimum commitment of 19,555 hours which has been exceeded in each calendar year. The Owen Sound proposal is for 8 front line officers who will provide 13,056 hours of policing (67% of what is currently provided by the OPP).
A line in the proposal reads, “Based on the current officer availability for the OSPS, each of these platoon members would provide 1,632 hours of ‘on duty’ service to the Municipality for a total of 13,056 hours per year”. The first nine words of that sentence seem to suggest there is no concrete commitment to Meaford.
Is the contract accurate?
The Mayor of Owen Sound used the terms ‘very real’, ‘very accurate’, and ‘very defendable’ to describe her view of the proposal. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions:
Fuel: The proposal includes $10,000 for fuel per patrol vehicle annually. That is 2 ¼ gallons (10.5 l) per shift based on today’s prices, based on 24/7 coverage. Most of that allotment would be used driving from Owen Sound to Meaford and return.
Snow Tires: The proposal shows $300.00 per patrol car for snow tires. The OPP uses complete sets of pursuit-rated snow tires purchased under a bulk supply contract for more than 1,500 cruisers: they can’t match that price.
One Time Start-up Costs: In the proposal there is a list of equipment under this category. The most expensive item is a communications tower listed at about $100,000. Patrol cars, uniforms, guns, emergency lights, snow machines, ATVs and other related miscellaneous equipment are also listed for a total cost of about $290,000. Most of the equipment on that list is by no means a one-time purchase. Also, I see nothing to address the land on which the communication tower sits or whether it’s been acquired. A sentence on the next page reads, “The estimates include the cost to establish and maintain an annual infrastructure and vehicle replacement fund”. Presuming the contract includes replacement of worn out equipment, although the wording is dubious to me, under what criteria and under whose direction will these items be replaced?
Store front office but no cells: Given the size and population of Meaford, the increase in activity in summer and the sometimes poor weather (ie. Highway 26 closed) I don’t see how it is operationally feasible to operate without holding cells.
Two Patrol Vehicles: The proposal allows for two all-wheel drive patrol vehicles at a cost of $31,000 each. That figure sounds low in my estimation. Further, it’s not unforeseeable, especially in the rural areas, to hit a deer or damage one or more police vehicles in a pursuit or similar circumstance. Is there an arrangement for a fully equipped replacement vehicle and who is responsible for the added costs? The OPP has adequate vehicles in Meaford now to remain operational in that circumstance and beyond that, fully equipped replacement vehicles are available from General Headquarters as required.
Do both services provide a school liaison officer?
Yes, but the Owen Sound proposal indicates that position will be held by a civilian employee. Can that person provide the police-youth interaction being sought, and deal with incidents such as assaults or drug offences requiring a police officer.
What about community policing?
The proposal understandably indicates there may be a need to seek experienced officers from outside the area to meet short term hiring needs. The deployment model suggests that the officers will start and end their shifts in Owen Sound. I doubt that any of those officers would live in Meaford. By contrast, most OPP officers assigned to Meaford live here, are deeply entrenched in the community, pay taxes here and start and end their shifts here. I’m not suggesting a police officer has to reside in a community to provide community based policing but it does help. Owen Sound will gain several officers and families who will contribute to the community while Meaford will see a corresponding loss.
Two compelling questions that should be considered:
What has prompted this costing proposal?
About a decade ago when the new Meaford was formed the municipality was thrust into making a choice between two existing policing agencies with long histories in their respective communities, as many will well remember. The dynamics of the current situation is completely different and based purely on financial considerations.
Are policing costs in Meaford unsustainable?
Policing costs are 9% of Meaford’s budget while in Owen Sound the figure is 28%, yet it is Meaford considering a change in policing services. Mayor Richardson has been openly critical of policing costs, most recently referring to the “very, very high” cost of OPP policing in a comment to a Sun Times reporter. The Mayor should ensure that policing costs are in line, but publicly aired discourse without facts or context is unhelpful at best. His comments have led many to believe that policing has been the major contributor to Meaford’s financial problems and excessive in comparison to similar communities. It is fodder for the police haters in every community and it has a negative impact on the officers, and their families, who live and work in Meaford.
Was there a similar proposal elsewhere in the province?
An uncannily similar situation occurred in Northumberland County. The same consulting firm which prepared the Meaford proposal was involved. The city of Cobourg made a pitch to offer municipal policing to take over from the OPP in Hamilton Township (pop.10,700). A proposal prepared by MPM Consulting was presented and accepted by Hamilton Township and Cobourg assumed policing in 2001. Two additional officers were hired by Cobourg, among other things, and policing costs in the rural municipality of Hamilton Township rose to 28% of their budget. They did not renew their contract, and Michael Mitchell of MPM Consulting appeared on behalf of Hamilton Township at a hearing to reiterate that it was his opinion that the two additional officers hired by the Cobourg PS were not actually required. This quote from an area resident sums it up best: “It costs money to get into an arrangement like this and will cost far more money to get out of it,” said Mr. Tunney. “I am not at all sure it worked that well. Otherwise, we would not be here.”1 Hamilton Township returned to policing by the OPP in 2006.
1 Source: Northumberland News, Feb. 24, 2006