Mayor unhappy with police response time
HALDIMAND COUNTY - There have been numerous complaints across Halimand County regarding Ontario Provincial Police response times.
Residents calling in looking for an OPP officer are waiting up to an hour for them to arrive. Upon their arrival they bring apologies and explanations.
According to the OPP there is a lack of man power and funding resulting in long response times but Mayor Ken Hewitt and members of the Police Service Board don't consider that a valid reason.
"The OPP is one of our largest external budget items in the county,” said a frustrated Hewitt during his monthly County update on Sept. 7. “The contract is a challenge for us because they try to make it a cookie cutter contract for the whole province and what we committed to when the county signed the contract was a fixed amount of officers with the expectation that there would be a certain amount of officers on per shift providing policing for this county.”
However, it seems as though the situation isn’t that simple.
“The dilemma is that we're being billed and the province or the contracting department of the O.P.P. (in Orillia) feels that it's not the number of officers that's the measuring stick, it's the hours they're getting,” said Hewitt. “So, if we translate the amount of officers we contracted, the expectation is that we should get 10,000 hours of policing. The problem is you have sick leave, maternity leave, holidays, and disability. You never ever get to the full 10,000 hours that you have paid for."
The idea of you get what you pay for doesn’t seem to apply to this situation.
"Then there's the minimum amount of hours they feel they can provide for safe enforcement for county. We have to establish what the acceptable amount is,” he said.
“If they say we have to have 7,000 hours and we're paying for 10,000, but you're ending up with 8,000 hours, then you understand what the target should be. What's happening, in my opinion, is we're not getting what we're currently paying for. No fault of anyone that's off sick or whatever but when we replace those people to fill that gap -it's being charged as over time. We're paying it.”
It seems as though Hewitt has had enough.
“We pay for the contract, then we're paying for the overtime to fulfill what the need is. That's ludicrous. It makes no sense,” said Hewitt who look forward to the first Police Service Board meeting on Sept. 26.
"Why are we paying over time for a contract we're already paying for? It goes back to hours. The frustrating part for me is we can be short staffed on Saturday, because an officer can’t come in for whatever reason and it's an issue for us because Saturdaycan be a busy night,” said Hewitt comparing activity to a week night.
“On Mondaywe can have more than enough for staff but nothing happening. The contract shouldn't be based on hours but on FTE (full time equivalents). That shouldn't be on the municipality's bill but on the OPP's bill."
Hewitt will have a very clear message at the PSB meeting.
“No more over time. If you can't fulfill the requirements of this contract today, then darn it all, you go to Orillia and tell your superiors that we need more officers,” said Hewitt.
“I'm not interested in paying to have the compliment we need and paying time and half when I should be getting that for regular time. It's expensive. It's a real mess."
When contacted at the OPP detachment in Cayuga, media relations officer Mark Foster stated that the situation is “a county issue. You have to speak with Hewitt or (Coun. Lorne) Boyko, they are on the PSB (police services board).”
"For Mark Foster to suggest that this is a county issue frustrates me,” Hewitt responded. “There's a fellow who understands media and messaging. This isn't a county issue, it's clearly a policing issue. I would like to expand the force but at least get me what I already paid for; then we can discuss hiring four or five more officers.”
Hewitt shares the same sentiments as other municipalities.
"I'd say currently we're not satisfied (with police service). There's a significant shift in visibility. It's an issue we have to bring to police services board. Council isn't satisfied,” said Hewitt. "Many municipalities like Haldimand are looking for alternatives (to OPP) because it's not sustainable. I have taxpayers saying that if it costs more to tax them to have a localized police force they are prepared to pay for it. It's more prevalent.”
However, before taxes increase Hewitt intends on looking for solutions.
“I hate to see taxes go up but at the same time if we can't control the contract and ensure that we're getting what we are getting...then we have to do something. The community will drive that,” said Hewitt.
“If they say provincial policing model isn't working for us, guess what fellas, you're going to lose that contract.
Today, I think people want to feel safe in their neighborhood. If people have an issue of feeling safe in the community we have to address that."
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