I don't envy Meaford's council and senior staff as they begin to process, analyze, and compare the proposal submitted by the Owen Sound Police Service for assuming policing service in the municipality to the service that the OPP has provided for more than a dozen years.
At first glance, it is apparent that some money can be saved, but are the savings worth upsetting the apple cart?
It's tough to say.
The proposal submitted by the Owen Sound Police Service would cost Meaford $1.79 million in the first year (increasing each year of the contract to $1.98 million in the fifth year), compared to the $1.98 million that the municipality will pay the OPP in a non-contract arrangement in 2014, with the future cost of the OPP service being highly uncertain.
If accurate, a savings of roughly $200,000 certainly is enticing, though in the fifth year of the proposed contract with Owen Sound, Meaford would pay almost exactly what will be paid to the OPP this year. Police services, and who should provide them, remain in limbo awaiting a thorough report from senior staff with their assessment of the new proposal.
Still, if accurate, $200,000 is $200,000, and that is a significant savings. But at what cost?
In the proposal from Owen Sound, there would be two cruisers to serve the entire municipality, and they assure that there will be at least one officer on patrol at any given time.
Is that enough?
The OPP currently has 11 constables plus a sergeant staffing the Meaford detachment, they have a half-dozen cruisers to service the municipality, and they typically have between two and four officers on patrol at any given time.
Do you feel safe going from 11 officers, a sergeant, and a half-dozen vehicles to eight officers, a detective and two cars all to save a measly $200,000, which as I continue to read through the proposal seems as if it might not be a $200,000 savings at all given the ambiguity of some of the mentions of administrative charges among other things that seem less than concrete?
Also of note in the proposal would be the loss of an actual officer to liaise with the three schools in Meaford in favour of a civilian who would be able to conduct most of the programs that police services provide to our children.
It makes sense to replace tasks that can be carried out at a more cost-effective rate, but there is something else to consider: what value do we place on having a uniformed officer in the schools regularly, particularly the high school, where the potential for the OPP school liaison officer to show up at any time might help deter a range of shenanigans?
Granted, there is no way of measuring the value of this service, and perhaps there is little value at all, but it helps to highlight the fact that there is much more to consider than dollars and cents.
Another consideration would be whether it is worth switching to a new police service which would result in a new team of officers who would have no history or relationship with the community, and would be virtual strangers to the community for the first while.
Is $200,000 enough in savings to start from scratch building a relationship between the community and those new officers?
Perhaps, but then again, perhaps not.
There were many residents who attended the budget meetings late last year who suggested that the nearly $2 million that Meaford has been paying for OPP service is far too much and that Meaford should be paying half that amount.
Hopefully, the fact that the Owen Sound proposal is just $200,000 less than what we've been paying to the OPP will make it clear to those concerned about policing costs that we are really paying the going rate plus or minus a few percentage points.
Comparing the two police services and deciding which is most appropriate for Meaford will be a daunting task indeed, and it is one perhaps that could be helped along with a public meeting or two in order to gauge whether the community wants to endure the headache of swapping police services to save what in reality is peanuts to the municipal operating budget – roughly two percent – or whether residents would prefer to stay with a police service they know and trust and who have served and protected our community for a dozen years.
It's a tough call, I just hope that in comparing the two services more than dollars are considered.