Meaford council has an important decision to make about policing in the coming weeks, and it is encouraging to see that they aren't going to make any decision without consulting the public first.
Municipal staff is expected to submit a report to council at their February 10 meeting which will offer an assessment of the proposal put forward by the Owen Sound Police Service. Later that week, on February 13, a public meeting is scheduled to take place at Woodford Hall to allow residents to express their views, ask questions, and to be part of the process in deciding which direction Meaford should look for their policing service.
In the short term, Meaford really only has two choices – to remain with the OPP on a non-contract basis, or to turn over policing responsibilities to Owen Sound for the proposed five year contract presented to Meaford.
A long-term contract with the OPP isn't in the cards at the moment as the provincial police service has said that they are reviewing their costing and billing processes, and they don't expect to be in a position to sign long-term contracts until late this year at the earliest.
So what should Meaford do?
After an extensive review of the proposed contract from Owen Sound, along with the insight and information provided by retired OPP officer and Meaford resident Steven Starr in his articles in this paper, if I had a vote I would vote in favour of remaining with the OPP.
That view is in no way meant to suggest that the service provided by Owen Sound would be sub-standard when compared to the OPP, but rather, the suggested savings Meaford would realize by entering into a five-year deal with Owen Sound just isn't enough to warrant such a drastic change – and it would indeed be a drastic change that would carry with it a certain amount of risk.
Taking risks like that is not something Meaford should be considering, especially given that this municipality has only recently managed to right its financial ship at a hefty cost to its residents. The last thing this municipality needs is a transition to a brand new police service to save what in reality is peanuts – should there actually be any savings realized at all.
Remaining with the OPP on a non-contract basis is not exactly ideal, though one of the benefits is that Meaford can move away from the OPP with 30 days’ notice should the pending revised costings from the OPP turn out to be exceptionally high making it cost-prohibitive to stay with them.
In the long term though, Meaford should be looking at another option altogether.
In his third article in his three-part series, Starr identified an option that perhaps Meaford is in a perfect position to champion in the coming months – a regional or county police service.
“To achieve more savings due to critical mass and economy of scale, municipalities currently OPP-policed could consider a consolidated county model. This has been done with great success in places like Caledon, Wellington County, Lambton County and New Tecumseth (Alliston),” suggests Starr. “Both the crime rate and cost of policing have declined in these communities. Caledon attained the dubious distinction of being named the safest city in Canada by Maclean’s magazine for several years running only to be unseated last year by Wellington County. Grey County, using the county levy system, could insure that the costs are fairly apportioned to the participating municipalities. I’m not a politician, but it baffles me that this option seems to be off the table in Grey County.”
If Meaford were able to court surrounding municipalities and convince them to work together to establish a regional police force – either by a united contract with the OPP, or by starting from scratch – instead of each small municipality trying to get the best deal they can, a group of municipalities could essentially “buy in bulk” which in theory would provide the best possible price tag.
Obviously any attempt to establish a regional or county police service is a long-term project that would require many meetings and a lot of patience, and who knows, it might come to nothing, but given the percentage of municipal budgets dedicated to policing, it is most certainly worth the effort to explore the possibility.
And who knows, the experience gained by such an exploration could provide a framework for the ‘regionalization’ of other services – libraries for example.