Consider This
Politics, Life and Journalism in Northumberland County, Ontario

Blame over policing debacle lays at politician’s feet

First published:
July 30, 2003

Mayors Rick Austin, Peter Delanty and Fred Holloway must be held accountable for the policing debacle created by the recent report done by KPMG.

The report is being condemned by the police forces and the public is having its say this week. The various councillors from each of the municipalities are also taking a serious run at the report with a wide array of concerns.

The report was done between April 24 and June 6. The consultants interviewed municipal staff, officials, members of the police service boards and reviewed budgets and operating plans.

Three options are presented: the current system, an amalgamated force or a contract with OPP. With the OPP, depending how the figures are interpreted, the municipalities can expect to save about $948,000. With an amalgamated force, it would be in the range of $361,000.

For the neo-conservative elements of the community, the tax savings will be an attractive incentive to call for change. With nearly a million dollars at stake, it is very tempting. But it is also does not represent what people want.

Already citizens have twice rejected the option of OPP policing. Hamilton Township and Port Hope residents have clearly said this is not the way they wish to go. There is little which has changed in the past year or two.

There is also plenty of evidence showing how badly local interests get treated once a service is taken out of hands of citizens. Just look at the school boards. Over the past two years our community has watched as the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School board closed Thomas Gillbard Public School in Cobourg and nearly closed L. B. Powers Public School in Port Hope. Other communities across Northumberland are already gearing up for fights in their areas. And to add salt to the wound, the board is looking at increasing the size of area served by trustees, watering down local representation.

Once control left Northumberland, citizens are left in the lurch. It is not hard to imagine what will happen if the OPP get the police contract. In the not too distant future, OPP officials will be responding to edicts from the head office in Orillia. And we will be at the mercy of provincial policies, not local ones.

While the amalgamated force is not as large a cost savings, it provides the best compromise for those wishing to reduce taxes and still maintain local control.

But is this really about saving taxes. And here is where the three amigos of municipal leadership need to be held responsible.

Getting a grip on out of control police spending is the job of the police services boards – plain and simple. All three municipalities have representation on these boards. So what in heaven’s name is going on that is preventing these savings from being already realized?

Politics.

Yes, the political agenda is what is being served, certainly not the citizens. And it is terribly demoralizing for the police officers and staff. Municipal leaders want to grab control of police service boards. This is obvious. Such a report creates an unnecessary debate and whips up public fervor, but little else. It draws taxpayers’ attention to the issue and at the same time, raises emotions to a high pitch.

Austin, Delanty and Holloway must give clear explanations as to why this report was needed at this particular time. And councillors should have squashed this waste of time and money. The mayors are mad because they can’t influence the police boards the way they want to. Just look at Delanty, who has cried and moaned many times about what goes on. Most recently was the appointment of a Hamilton Township resident as board chair. This is one of many of his frustrations over his term in office. Let’s watch as he uses this study as a club to beat the police board into line.

But members of the police boards also need to step up and be questioned. Police chiefs and police associations have urged integration of services and amalgamation as a means of reducing spending and efficiency for years. This report shows clearly that there are saving to be found. However, provincial appointees have enjoyed the safety of hiding in boardrooms without having to face the public wrath.

The two chiefs were well on their way to saving taxpayers money through a joint communications centre, but it was squashed by the Port Hope police services board in May for no good reason. The study shows taxpayers would save $127,000. The Port Hope board members need to answer for this lost opportunity.

If the police services lack transparency, then let’s address this. Both police services should create citizen liaison groups immediately, chaired by well-respected community leaders to seek input on service improvements and cost-savings. The boards will need to respond in public to any concerns or suggestions.

Residents should make sure they attend the public meetings. If they cannot, let your feelings be known in writing to the councils and police service boards. Policing should not be used as an issue to whip up a public frenzy when it is really the leaders at all levels of this mess who should be whipped for not being able to do their job.

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