Former Perth mayor, Lana March got a sharp rebuke from the civilian commission investigating the disbanding of the Perth Police Service (PPS) when she called on the body to dig into the information it was presented by the town, and look back on how its own previous decisions had been carried out.
“Demonstrate that you are an independent agency that does not simply regurgitate the information it receives,” said March, the former head of Perth’s police services board, during the OCOPS (Ontario Civilian Police Commission) section 40 hearing held at the Best Western Plus Hotel in Perth on Wednesday, Dec. 5. “Demonstrate that OCOPS is ready to be held accountable for its actions…use factual and up-to-date reasoning. You have a duty to do your own up-to-date research.”
“We do not have independent researchers at our beck and call,” said chairman David C. Gavsie immediately after March’s presentation. “We are a small body. We have an annual budget of $1.6 million. We review what is put before us. We will review the information before us and make our decision.”
He added that OCOPS does not follow up on its previous decisions.
“You can’t equate the Perth decision with the Leamington situation, or Chatham-Kent,” said Gavsie. “Don’t try and pin this on the commission to reinvest all of the work done by OCOPS.”
Fellow OCOPS board member Roy Conacher added that any concerns about the OPP not living up to its agreement were unfounded since the contract “is a legal agreement that has to be followed,” he said, with legal remedies if it is not.
March had looked at seven recent OCOPS decisions regarding police departments’ disbandment across the province between 2001 and 2010, and noted that the Leamington agreement which was cited by the board at the beginning of the meeting was made back in 1998.
“In previous decisions, you have written that the (Police Act) does not outline what constitutes adequate (service),” she said.
March also referred to reports by Ontario’s auditor general, which “found that most (police) detachments were under-staffed. Will the town of Perth be left short?” after the merger, she wondered. “Perth citizens are paying for a Perth officer, not for them to be going to far-away places,” said March, noting that the OPP’s coverage area stretches throughout all of Lanark County, and out as far west as Sharbot Lake.
Other presenters at the hearing made it clear that they were either in favour of the proposed merger, or saw few logistical problems going forward.
“Every community is a little different,” conceded John Chalmers, who formulated the report presented to town council on disbanding the police force this past summer. But Chalmers reiterated that his mandate was to see to it that policing needs were “adequate and effective according to the needs of the town of Perth.” In his estimation, all things considered, “you have an opportunity to choose between two services that will meet your needs.”
Mayor John Fenik reiterated his position on the matter to the commission, stating that the decision was “not taken lightly. This is a historical day and this is one I will wear politically for the rest of my life…This was not an easy decision for me as mayor. (But) it made sense on every level I looked at it.”
He added that “we have the greatest of respect for our municipal force. They have a long, distinguished history.”
Fenik also conceded that while there was not unanimity about the decision in the community that division extended to the council chambers as well.
“From a council perspective, this was not unanimous,” said Fenik. “One councillor was not in support of the process. It is important to note that this was not unanimous,” he said, not calling Coun. Jim Graff by name.
One of the purposes of the hearing was to determine whether Perth would receive adequate police coverage under the OPP.
“Me, nor council, would ever make a decision that would put anyone at risk or deliver a sub-standard level of care,” said Fenik.
Even at this, there were still questions raised about adequate coverage. Former Perth police services board member Dr. Carl Rubino determined that, by his estimation, there was a significant difference in the number of hours worked by full time officers in the OPP and PPS.
“They do represent an inadequacy factor,” said Rubino.
Insp. Gerry Salisbury, detachment commander for the Lanark County OPP, walked the commission through details of how policing in the county would look post-merger. Under his plan, there would be:
* One Inspector/Detachment Commander
* One Staff Sergeant/Operations Manager
* Eight sergeants (up from the current seven)
* 85 constables (up from the current 72)
* 18.5 civilian employees (up from the current 13.5)
* 19.5 auxiliary officers (no change)
He stressed that the numbers were based on 15 Perth officers coming over to the OPP. If that number is only 13, for example, Salisbury promised to speak to the Perth police services board about priorities.
“One thing that became very evident during the costing process was that community service is very important to this town,” said Salisbury. “Foot and bicycle patrols are very important to this town. We will continue to maintain that.”
Salisbury added that Perth will become the seventh zone in the county after Carleton Place, Sharbot Lake, Tay Valley/Drummond-North Elmsley, Montague and Beckwith Townships, Lanark Highlands Township and Mississippi Mills. Joint OPP/PSP patrols will also start in January.
“This town will receive an excellent service with the OPP,” said Salisbury. “It will exceed many of the standards of the town. The town won’t see any difference in policing. In fact, they might see a slight increase in a presence.”