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Leamington sticking with OPP, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be the status quo


by Sylene Argent

The Municipality of Leamington will stick with the OPP, its Council voted during a special meeting hosted on the evening of Tuesday, May 18, regarding the applications recently submitted to the Request for Proposal process for policing services.

  Director of Legal Services, Ruth Orton, noted that starting in August of 2019, Michael Mitchell, of MPM Consulting, presented and reviewed options for police services available under the Police Services Act for Leamington. The following month, Council approved the retainer of MPM Consulting to prepare a report evaluating the current level of policing, which was presented in February 2020 and concluded that the OPP provide service was in compliance with all mandatory adequacy standards, but offered little flexibility in customizing its service delivery model to the specific needs and wishes of the client municipalities.

Leamington Council then directed Mitchell to prepare a second report to determine the perception of the current service-level and obtain input into policing priorities in order to establish minimum levels of service for the municipality, using public opinion. This second report was presented on July 14, 2020. Council then directed Administration to issue a Request for Proposals for contract policing, based on the priorities and the minimum-levels of service described in that report.

  On June 9, 2020, Council passed a motion to terminate the agreement with the Solicitor General for the provision of police services by the OPP. This termination becomes effective on June 9, 2021, at which time the OPP will continue to provide policing services to the Municipality pursuant to section 5.1 of the Police Services Act.

  Further, in September 2020, Council approved issuing a Request for Proposal for Police Services and approved the evaluation criteria and corresponding values for proposals received. Two proposals were later received, one from the Windsor Police Service and the other from Chatham Kent Police Service. The OPP did not submit a proposal.

A committee was put together to analyze the proposals and utilize the current level of service provided by the OPP, and the cost of that service, for comparison purposes.

Orton noted that though both proposals described similar levels of service, MPM’s report identified the Windsor Police Service was the preferred proponent.

“Administration cannot recommend that Council accept either proposal received,” Orton noted. “To accept the preferred proposal, would result in a substantial tax increase to ratepayers or drastic cuts in current municipal services, or a combination of the two. None of which is recommended by administration.”

  She noted enhanced policing options will remain available to municipalities that are serviced by the OPP, once the new legislation comes into force in early 2022. “It is recommended the municipality continue to explore these options, with the OPP and continue to hire paid-duty officers when necessary and when appropriate.”

  Laura Rauch, Director of Finance and Business Services/Treasurer, added that the financial impact of accepting either proposal from Windsor Police Service or Chatham Kent Police Service must be determined, with consideration of the impact on three spending categories: their operational expenses, capital investment, and reserve contributions.

  The 2021 Police Services budget included the operating expense of $5,771,650 for the OPP contract, which accounts for around 18 percent of the municipal levy. Rauch added the OPP contract costs will not change in June 2021, upon termination of the contract, although some grant revenues may no longer be received under Section 5.1 of the Police Services Act.

  Rauch added that Leamington is currently paying less than what was paid in 2015 for policing.

Over the last three-years, however, the annual OPP contracted costs have increased approximately 6.3 percent per year. The increase in policing cost has been funded through an annual increase in property tax rate and municipal growth.

  “If Council were to accept the preferred proposal, this would require a 13 percent municipal tax rate increase in the first year. This would increase the average homeowner’s tax bill by $232 in year one of the contract.”

  The average residential house is assessed at $175,000.

  That increase, she added, does not give consideration to other operating capital pressures in front of Leamington Council at budget deliberations.

  Councillor John Hammond said when running for a position on Leamington Council, members of the public at large voiced they were not content with the level of policing at the time from the OPP. He said due diligence was put in to get to this point.

  Orton noted the next steps would include having the OPP remain the policing provider for Leamington, under Section 5.1. She said there will be a report presented to Council at the May 25 regular meeting, regarding the proposed OPP detachment board. Regulations, she added, are in development for the proposed billing model for the OPP.

    Councillor Paul Tiessen said there needs to be discussions with the OPP, at different levels, and with other municipalities to see what else can be done. There still needs to be change he said, noting Leamington has different needs.

  “We have never blamed the boots on the ground. We have never blamed the frontline officers in any of this. This goes much further up. This goes right to the top of the OPP chain; right to the brass at the top. There has to be a change from the top down, in order to make the policing what we would consider adequate and effective.”

  Tiessen added there also needs to be transparency, and Council needs to know how many officers are on duty. “That is just something that is for the safety of the public and the safety of the officers themselves. We know, at times, there are one or two officers on duty. That is not adequate and that is not effective in our eyes.”

  Next steps, Tiessen said, there needs to be discussions with the OPP and with the top-levels with the OPP, to see if any traction can be found there.

  Councillor Trevor Jones said Leamington is addressing sophisticated, difficult situations that are unique to Leamington. He said there are several communities in Essex County, also policed by the OPP, that are amongst the safest in Canada. Leamington has a higher-level of sophistication when it comes to connection to crime and organized syndicates, because crime follows money.

  “We are very fortunate to have a median income that is higher, that we have opportunities, that we have well-paying jobs that are higher than some communities in Ontario.”

  He thought it would be irresponsible to not make a decision and revert to a 5.1 or delay the decision to the next Term of Council.

  Mayor Hilda MacDonald said no matter the decision Council makes, it has no refection on the submissions of either the Windsor Police Service or the Chatham Kent Police Service. “This is businesses. This is not personal. We do not expect the residents of either city to carry the cost, because of us. We expect to carry our own weight. This is purely and simply about the ability and willingness to pay.”

  To anyone who thinks Leamington is reverting back to status quo with the OPP, “I am going to tell you in capital letters, we are not. The message has been sent loud and clear to the upper echelons of the OPP. They have gotten the message,” MacDonald said, adding there have been conversations with the Ministry of the Solicitor General.

She said the conversation had to take place and it needed to be researched as to what else is out there.

  Unanimously, Council moved to accept administration’s recommendation that neither proposals are accepted in response to the request for proposals for police services.   

  Councillor Tim Wilkinson suggested putting a timestamp on the issue and revisiting it in the near future, once the new provincial regulations come into place.

  MacDonald said she believes Leamington is on a different playing ground now, as its level of dissatisfaction is more acknowledged.  

  In response to the decision undertaken by the Town of Leamington with regards to policing, Inspector Glenn Miller, Detachment Commander, issued a statement that noted the Essex County OPP looks forward to working with community leaders and residents in continuing the delivery of dedicated, professional, and cost-effective policing to the community of Leamington.

“I want to express my thanks for the unwavering hard work and commitment shown by our Leamington OPP members as the municipality moved through this process. I remain immensely proud of our uniform members and civilian employees at our Leamington Detachment.”