Innisfil Votes for South Simcoe Police Service

I withheld comment on Innisfil’s debate about switching police service to the OPP because I had mixed feelings about both options. The SSPS budget had grown consistently each year, eventually consuming 25% of the municipal tax bill. I wanted to hear the arguments for and against, hear public sentiment, and observe the final vote. In the end, a majority of Innisfil Council voted, like Bradford West Gwillimbury, to retain the South Simcoe Police Service in spite of the OPP’s estimate that their contract service would save the two municipalities about $5 million a year.

There is a catch though. Disbanding the SSPS in favour of the OPP would result in “transition” costs of more than $11 million dollars beginning in 2015. Apparently, this is due to what some called a ‘poison pill’ clause in the original agreement that established the SSPS. It was designed to discourage contracting out policing. (I assume existing officers would be paid a hefty severance package to exchange uniforms for the OPP). With OPP policing, the two municipalities were expected to realize savings after 4 years of transition costs.

Municipalities that have adopted OPP service have experienced the same concerns as Innisfil councillors and residents:

  • Lack of local control
  • A one-size-fits-all service model
  • Concern about response times

Under the OPP model, Innisfil would have been served from the Nottawasaga detachment along with several other municipalities. This potentially saves money on common needs such as administration, dispatch and specialized officers. But other regions have experienced issues with pre-packaged policing service. One newspaper report noted that Haldimand, for instance, has been trying unsuccessfully to get OPP to adopt a list of 20 ‘local needs’ requirements.

According to published data, municipal police forces cost $282 “per citizen” compared to $160 for contracted OPP service. That’s about 76% higher but ‘per person’ is not a useful measure in my opinion. The bulk of policing costs is in salaries. In 2014, a two-year provincial wage freeze will end. The OPP are expected to gain an 8.5% raise making them Ontario’s highest paid police force. By the time transition costs were absorbed I doubt that any real savings would have materialized. The City of Toronto and its boroughs were amalgamated supposedly to save millions of dollars but I don’t recall that ever being achieved. Toronto now has a mayor that aimed to derail their municipal “gravy train” but that’s looking more like a real train wreck every day.

Ontario’s “Sunshine List” for 2012 (public service salaries over $100,000) included 939 “law enforcement officers”, and 446 “general duty officers”.  The OPP has about 6,200 members. The reality is that all police forces, like some other unionized public service workers, are pricing themselves out of the market. Some cities, such as Winnipeg, are now hiring and training lower-priced “cadets” ($13 to $15/hour) to provide some basic policing service.

Transparency and accountability are operative words of the day. My view is that large, complex centralized organizations have lost the public trust. Recalling the example of international bankers and brokerages operating a financial shell game, Senators cheating on parliamentary expense allowances and accepting secret cash ‘gifts’, or discreditable conduct of police during and after the G20 in Toronto, we instinctively feel more assured with a locally based and locally controlled service. Innisfil has left the door open to consider alternatives once again if budget targets cannot be met, but for now, South Simcoe Police have received a vote of confidence.


3 thoughts on “Innisfil Votes for South Simcoe Police Service

  1. Great news. I just posted a link to your blog post to our local Facebook group called the Bradford Social Networking Association to let our community know about Innisfils council decision. Thanks.

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