OPP not solely to blame for policing costs: Lewis 0
MIDLAND -Commissioner Chris Lewis responded publicly Friday to concerns being raised by some OPP-policed municipalities about policing costs.
"It is not the OPP that is solely responsible for policing costs spiralling out of control' as some of our critics have charged," he told those attending the annual Mayors' Day breakfast in support of physician recruitment.
"The OPP is aware that many municipalities are struggling to cope with increasing demands on tax revenues, provincial budget cuts and rising policing costs," he said. "Unfortunately, policing is an expensive business no matter where you are."
But, he pointed out, "the annual cost of policing per household is often lower than the average household cable bill! Or satellite! Or water!
"The average cost per person in an OPP-policed community with a population of 15,000 to 49,999 is $150 a year for 24/7 service with all the resources the OPP brings to the table.
"This compares to an average of $284 annually per capita for a municipal police service.
"Policing costs are rising for a number of reasons," he said.
"Yes, our officers are well-paid. They live and work across this province -in the Greater Toronto Area, the remote north - from Ottawa to Kenora. They are often forced to relocate and are often temporarily assigned to investigations or operations away from home.
"Currently, OPP officers are the second highest paid police officers in Ontario, but there is only about a $600 difference between the wages for a First Class Constable at the highest paid service -currently Toronto -and the tenth place service.
"Policing is a difficult and sometimes dangerous profession that takes a toll on its members. At the OPP, we need to offer a competitive wage rate so we can attract and retain the best possible recruits."
He said Canadians are fortunate that many people enter policing because they have a passion for the work.
"It's one of the reasons we enjoy excellent ethical policing in all our jurisdictions.
"If you have travelled to the Third World, you will know there are countries where the police are rightly viewed as an extension of the criminal underworld, In some places they are totally corrupt and have been known to murder people.
"Just as we all have a strong personal stake in the health care system," he continued, "all of us have a personal interest in the provision of effective police services to keep our communities safe.
"Few of us here would choose to live in a police state, where the rule of law is absolute and unchallenged. At the same time, few of us would choose to live in anarchy, where there are no laws or protections.
"The officer who, on as quiet night, walks the main street of his or her town and checks the doors, or on a week day speaks to the merchants and shoppers is really just a visible reminder that the rule of law prevails.
"Any stranger who drives around Midland and Penetanguishene -or elsewhere in Simcoe County -would intuitively know that we live in communities that respect the rule of law.
"Those of you here who are involved in recruiting needed medical personnel and other professionals to the region would know that our orderly society is a big selling point for the area.
"I would suggest that business will not want to invest in a community that looks like a war zone; where crime is rampant; or where people live in fear.
I would also suggest that doctors would not be interested in establishing a practice and moving a family to such a community."
He said the OPP polices 322 of the 444 municipalities in Ontario; 172 on a Police Services Act "non-contract" basis and 150 on a "contract" basis.
"Besides providing core policing to 322 municipalities, we also administer policing for 19 communities under the Ontario First Nation Policing Agreement and provide direct policing to 19 other First Nations communities.
"As well, the OPP provides specialized services such as major case management, emergency response, underwater search and recovery and forensic identification.
"Municipal revenues are down, the province is in a deficit -this is not an easy time to lead the second largest police service in all of Canada.
"I am confident the OPP can work through this time of austerity and continue to be the largest, best-equipped, most affordable, best-trained and capable police service anywhere for years to come," he said.
In an interview afterward, Lewis said the OPP has a responsibility "to make sure our people are communicating with municipalities. We haven't done that well. I'll be honest about that.
"I had a hard time understanding the funding and staffing models. I can understand why municipal officials have problem with that."