As Midland waits patiently for the OPP costing proposal so Council can begin deliberations on whether to keep the local police or outsource policing to the Province we follow the parallel path by Brockville who is a few steps ahead of Midland in the same endeavour. In yet another article in the Brockville Recorder, local reporter Ronald Zajac explains why something as simple as an “apples to apples” comparison between an OPP policing contract and the existing Brockville Police Service is nearly impossible for Council to do.
“Locals who want to compare the Brockville Police Service with an Ontario Provincial Police contract need to undergo a “paradigm shift,” provincial police officials said Wednesday.
And that could make the “apples-to-apples” comparison sought by local councillors and advocates a tricky matter.
“Our model is applied provincially,” Staff-Sgt. Liane Spong, of the OPP’s municipal policing bureau, told the committee. That, she added, requires “a big paradigm shift in thinking in moving from something that has been local.” Brockville’s OPP costing process resumed Wednesday with a “tutorial” on the provincial service’s billing model.
Officials with the OPP’s municipal policing bureau briefed city council’s OPP contact ad hoc committee on how Brockville would be billed were it to switch from its current municipal police force to an OPP contract. And committee members ran up against the complexity of a system meant to spread out costs among, currently, 323 municipalities.
The provincial force uses a billing model that is “provincially focused” and divides most of municipal policing costs into two categories: Base service, allocated to all municipalities equally on a per-property basis, and calls for service, allocated to municipalities based on their individual level of usage, OPP officials explained.
The OPP calculates calls for service using time standards applied to four-year average calls for service, coming up with total weighted hours of calls for service. Those averages are not reconciled to the actual time officers spend on those calls.
However, anything to do with salaries and benefits is reconciled – meaning the difference between one year’s budget and actual spending is made up in later budgets.
All of which had committee members scratching their heads.
“We’re not paying for what average policing costs,” said councillor Jane Fullarton.
“With our own service, we’re paying for what we use.”
City manager Bob Casselman, meanwhile, asked Spong how he could draw up a city budget based on the expectation of year-end adjustments for OPP salary costs. She replied the OPP has currently given itself room for a 1.5 per cent increase, based on ongoing negotiations. But she acknowledged that, with a new billing system, it’s too early to tell how things change from year to year.
“We don’t have four or five years’ data under this new billing model to be able to answer that question,” said Spong.
As with the previous contact committee meeting in June, a large crowd, including members of the advocacy group Citizens Offering Police Support (COPS), packed the main council chamber.
COPS filed a list of questions, both to the OPP and the ad hoc committee, on such matters as OPP response times in nearby communities and a comparison between the current stand-alone municipal police force and the proposed integrated detachment that would see Brockville become part of the OPP’s Leeds detachment. Spong replied that the OPP does not capture response times.
While fire departments and ambulance services can easily measure the time it takes for a vehicle to leave its station and reach an incident, that’s not the same with police, said Spong.
“Police are on the move. They’re in a cruiser,” she said.
But police chief Scott Fraser said he is often asked about response times and the city police’s dispatch system captures them automatically. The police force’s annual report includes average response times.
“Five keystrokes and I can get an entire year,” said Fraser. “The system does it all.
The chief acknowledged such calculations may be easier in Brockville, where police cars are always within a five-kilometre radius, whereas the OPP covers a much wider territory.
Mayor David Henderson said that, in his decade on the city’s police services board, he has never been part of a discussion about the importance of response times.
The OPP is expected to come back with a proposal in October.
Once the OPP proposal comes in, a debate will begin on whether or not to replace Brockville’s 184-year-old municipal police force with an OPP service contract.