PERTH - Perth town council has officially ratified a five-year contract for the OPP to provide policing services to the town starting Friday, April 5.
The contract will be officially signed at a ceremony at the Perth campus of Algonquin College on Saturday, April 6.
“This bylaw will move us into a five-year police contract with the OPP,” said Perth Mayor John Fenik. “We followed a very long and detailed path to get here…We value the services of our Perth Police Service (PPS), but we are turning the page…to a police force that will serve our community well. We look forward to a long, positive relationship with the OPP.”
The decision to disband the PPS has easily been the dominant topic of conversation in town for the past year, but the logjam of laws and contracts was broken earlier this month when the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPS) ruled in favour of the disbandment.
“Everything that has been said has been said,” said deputy Mayor John Gemmell somewhat wearily. “We have done our due diligence.”
“We took our time with this,” agreed Coun. Jim Boldt, who predicted that the old Perth officers who cross over to the OPP will “do a great job” in their new uniforms.
“It may take a couple of years for us to look back and say that this was the right thing to do,” said Boldt. “But it will happen.”
Coun. Judy Brown reminded council of the main reason behind making the decision – cold, hard cash.
“We will have significant savings,” said Brown, once the initial start-up costs have been paid.
Coun. Ed McPherson came out swinging against the provincial government for letting policing costs spiral out of control, and hoped that the new Liberal government, under Premier-designate Kathleen Wynne, would do something to improve the situation.
“I will be thoroughly disgusted if the provincial government does not go after policing and fire costs,” said McPherson. “Policing is facing a time of change. The time has come to put the brakes on this.”
He was quick to concede that policing “is a dangerous job. They go into places the rest of us won’t go,” and that police officers had to be paid accordingly, but that the province also had to contend with the fiscal reality of being a have-not province.
“I hope that the savings will come to fruition,” said McPherson. “There are many municipalities that are turning to the OPP.”
In his nearly two decades on council, McPherson admitted that “this is the hardest decision I have made on council… I will remember this all the rest of my life. (But) this decision has to be made. We cannot do the business we used to do. I will miss the blue and white cars downtown. (But) it’ll just be a different car they will (the officers) will drive.”
The final vote was five votes in favour of the contract, with the only vote against it being the disbandment’s longtime opponent on council, Coun. Jim Graff, who took one last opportunity to criticize Fenik for his handling of the file. (Coun. Beth Peterkin was absent for the vote.)
“It was not with any ax that I have to grind with the OPP,” said Graff. “Quite the opposite. As leader of council, and a member of the police services board, the first logical step should have been a directive from you to council to look for any and all savings in the Perth Police Service,” instead of jumping straight to the disbandment of the PPS as the first, only and best option.
“This isn’t like a garbage contract,” Graff added, since, if a garbage contractor fails to meet the expectations set out in a contract, the municipality can simply go to another competing contractor.
“It is irreversible,” said Graff, with the OPP being the only other policing option around. “It is better to err on the side of caution.”
However, Graff ended his comments by saying that “I hope my concerns will be proven wrong over time.”
McPherson said he wanted to commend Perth police Chief Pat Capello and Perth Insp. Glen Dewey for all of their service to the community.
“These guys should serve as models to up-and-coming police officers,” said McPherson.
According to Fenik, the Perth police services board (PSB) will remain at five members. Under a memorandum of understanding, Insp. Gerry Salisbury, the detachment commander of the Lanark County OPP agreed to meet regularly with the PSB to discuss quarterly crime statistics, and to meet with town council as well to discuss issues like response times.
“This gives us a level of communication that we did not have in the past,” said Brown.
“Communication is everything,” said Boldt. “It is so important. We tend to take things for granted. Going forward with the OPP, I think that this is fair. We are going to have some growing pains, especially in the early years.”