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Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Crime stats don’t paint true picture

Cobourg police force recently heralded a drop in the local crime rate over the past year, with the number of incidents dropping by about four per cent between 1998 and 1999. Port Hope has not released its official report, but it is also saying there is similar decline of about four per cent.
Then a few days later in Cobourg, Chief John Kay got support from the police services board to approve the hiring of two new officers under a provincial program that pays half the officer’s salary for the next five years. After that, Cobourg taxpayers will be on the hook for the full amount. This program began last year and Cobourg hired one officer. Port Hope also hired an officer last year, but it is not planning to hire this year unless Hope Township becomes part of its coverage area.

So why does Cobourg want to hire additional officers if the crime rate is dropping? It would appear the job is getting done with the existing force.

Not according to Chief Kay. He says the statistics released recently only paint a portion of the total picture. In fact, police forces across Ontario must meet tough new guidelines from the provincial government by the end of this year. The new standards demand all kinds of accountability that was not present in the past. If the force does not meet the new standards, the police board can be dismissed and the chief fired.

In talking with Chief Kay last week, he is worried about our local high schools. In fact, the purpose of hiring the two new officers is specifically for school prevention programs and a series of new programs for seniors. It also means Cobourg will be meeting the new standards.

And so, two weeks ago the chief announce a new initiative. A phone line, CrimeStoppers and a drug-sniffing dog were introduced into the high schools. This is supported with tough talk from Chief Kay saying if there are drugs in the school; the police will find them. Within a matter of days two incidents are reported, he says.

All of this is good, on the surface. But here’s the catch. The police services board approved the hiring and programs without all the facts being on the table. Chief Kay admits he did not have statistics regarding crime in local high schools. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence and lots of concern from parents, teachers and principals, he says. But there is no hard evidence.

The chief argues these are prevention programs and you shouldn’t have to wait until there is a massive problem documented on paper before the police should act. He’s right. But that is true only so far.
For the sake of taxpayers, the chief should be able to provide a bit more than he has done to date. And this is where we need to turn our attention to the politicians.

Councillor John Lindsay is responsible for emergency services and sits on the police board. He has demanded little more than a few words from the chief before is giving his endorsement to this program. As the taxpayer’s representative on this board, he should be asking for some statistical basis for this, especially in light of the drop in crime. But in an interview last week, he admits to asking for nothing.

He defends his actions by saying council will deal with this in the next few weeks when the Chief Kay brings his budget forward. So he turns his job over to civil servants and the rest of council rather than dirty his hands by asking for some accountability. During the same interview last week, he made all kinds of pronouncements saying he would have hard numbers before council was asked to approve the budget. Well that is too little, too late councillor.

These programs deserve our support. Chief Kay has proved that time and again he is fiscally responsible with all the programs he runs. And the high school program is a good one. But that does not let Lindsay off the hook. He is too quick to buy in and admits he “trusts staff”. He should do his homework. Chief Kay will provide the rationale and a good one. He did it in an interview with the press. But if we don’t hear the answers then how do we know our tax dollars are being well spent.

Lindsay is acting more like a lap dog than a watchdog. Maybe he needs to take a few lessons from Wally Justice, one of the town’s police dogs.

Port Hope residents need to be watching their police board with the same intensity. Local taxpayers must feel these police initiatives are well grounded and defensible. It’s up to elected officials to ensure this. Both towns should be making the new standards public, along with the accompanying reports to show all of us what is going well and what is not.

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