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Leamington Council votes to end OPP contract


by Sylene Argent

Last Tuesday, at its regular meeting, Leamington Council voted to give the required one-year notice to end its OPP contract. The OPP has provided the municipality of around 30,000 with its policing service since 2010.

  At the meeting, Mayor Hilda MacDonald brought forward a Notice of Motion that she presented at the previous meeting, for discussion.

  MacDonald, explained back in December, Leamington renewed its three-year contract, but planned to move forward with looking at other opportunities.

  “The decision in December, to renew the contract for three-years, was based on Council’s fear that if we didn’t renew it, we would have reduced service; we wouldn’t have a Police Services Board, we wouldn’t have access to some of the things [offered through the OPP]. That was the fear, but the contract said, we could terminate at anytime, [but] would have to give a year’s notice.” MacDonald said.

  Leamington’s OPP police service costs around $5.4 million a year, which equates to around 18 percent of its tax levy. Last year, she said there was a six-percent increase. “It was quite astounding for us,” she said.

  Last month, Leamington issued a policing survey for residents and employees, as a way to garner public feedback. In February, a consultant, Michael Mitchell of MPM Consulting, was obtained to prepare a report regarding establishing minimum desired levels of police service in the Municipality.

  MacDonald said, to her knowledge, the survey is not finished yet, but heard there has been a lot of response. The consultant has contacted Council members, in addition to those who have interactions with the police and the Police Services Board for in-person interview. That report is expected to go before Leamington Council next month.

  She added the year’s notice of termination still gives Leamington the same level of service, with a Police Services Board in tact, until the year’s up. After that point, if no alternative is set in place, the OPP would remain as the police service provider pursuant to section 5.1 of the Police Services Act.

  In a Report to Council on the matter, it notes a community that is serviced by the OPP under section 5.1 is not eligible for the Community Safety and Policing and RIDE grants and is not eligible for enhancements.

  For the next step, Leamington is doing its homework, MacDonald said. Plans are in the works, after the consultant report is ready in July, to have a meeting with her, Leamington’s CAO, and Amherstburg’s Mayor and CAO in regards to the contract it signed with the Windsor Police Service last year.

  “We want to look at their contract...we want to use that almost as a baseline.” She wants to have conversations with the Amherstburg reps as to what they like and what they do not like.

  From there, conversations will continue with members of Leamington Council. MacDonald said the consultant will talk about the survey responses and make some recommendations. Council will discuss and digest, then give him direction as to what Leamington Council wants in a Request for Proposal.

  That Request for Proposal will go out to all police services that are willing, including LaSalle, Windsor, and Chatham-Kent. At that time, there will be consideration for pricing, “Even though that’s not driving our bus at the moment,” she said. “And then, we will go from there.”

  She added if no services make a submission, the municipality will have to figure out what to do next. “Always on the horizon, are going back to municipal source and also looking for an interregional policing, too. So, we have a multitude of options, I believe, that we will look at.”

  The next year will be one where Leamington’s reps will review, evaluate, plan, and get ready for implementation of the new service.

  Establishing a police force for Leamington is not off the table, but MacDonald said it would take more than a year, likely two years, to get to that point. She said many constituents would like to see this. She said Leamington does have an advantage in that it still owns its policing facility.  

“That is a bigger project, but not off the table,” she said.

  What led Leamington Council to this decision, followed after having a meeting with upper level administrators of the OPP, including Inspector and Detachment Commander, Glenn Miller. “We asked for numbers. We wanted to know what our complement is, how many officers are there on a shift. They didn’t tell us. They refused to tell us.”

  MacDonald said the higher-level administrative reps of the OPP were asked what the minimum is when it comes to officers patrolling at a time and what are the response times. She said they would not divulge that information.  

  “There was an unwillingness to share with us what it is that we are paying for,” MacDonald said. “For us, we would not be doing our due diligence if we did not [get that information], so we could tell our taxpayers ‘this is what we are paying for.”

  MacDonald said Leamington had offered to provide more funding for more boots on the ground, “Because we are like a city.” 

She said they were told that could not be done because it does not fit the model. The municipality could purchase special services, such as a canine handler. Council then asked, if when that person is not conducting their special service, could they be used as a boots on the ground officer, and was told, ‘no.’

  “So, it is a matter of accountability. We need to be able to say this is how many officers we have,” she said, adding they would also like to know what the minimum number of police serving at a time is, if officers are replaced on parental or sick leave, or on vacation.   

  “We tried to convince them to make us different, make us a special case, because we are not rural Ontario, we are urban Ontario; nope. Refused to do it,” she said.

  What led Leamington Council to believe it needed more officers patrolling was that “the police presence was not being seen,” MacDonald said, adding there is a feeling there has been a crime wave as of late.

  MacDonald added, “We are not dissatisfied with our officers at all. We want more officers. That’s what this is about.”

  Inspector Miller sent out a response to Leamington’s decision to news outlets. It reads that the OPP respects the recent decision of Leamington Council to end its policing agreement with the Ontario Provincial Police. 

  “As Essex County OPP Detachment Commander, I wish to express my sincere appreciation and unwavering support for the hard work, commitment to the community, and dedication our officers display every day in providing professional policing services to the citizens of Leamington. I am immensely proud of our members and civilians who have served in Leamington, as is all of the OPP.  We look forward to fulfilling our obligations as outlined in the present Agreement between the Town of Leamington and the Ministry of the Solicitor General.” 

© 2020 The Essex Free Press ltd.

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