Amherstburg requests OPP costing from province

Amherstburg has sent a formal request to province to cost OPP policing and it's looking to create a advisory committee to review policing options.

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo says residents seem 'prepared to pay more' to keep community police

Amherstburg Mayor Aldo DiCarlo

The Town of Amherstburg has formally reached out to the provincial government to find out exactly how much it will cost to have the Ontario Provincial Police take over its police service.

In December 2014, town council passed a motion to investigate policing options. Requests for interest were sent to the other municipalities in the region to gauge the interest in regional policing. A similar request was sent to the Ontario Provincial Police but, at that time, the OPP had a moratorium on costing as it worked through a new policing model.

The moratorium has since been lifted and on March 7, Amherstburg officially requested an OPP costing proposal.

During Monday's council meeting, the town will form a steering/advisory committee to review policing options.

"The reason Amherstburg is interested in investigating OPP or regional policing is the same as every municipality in the province," says Mayor Aldo DiCarlo. "Policing is a good percentage of tax dollars, regardless of who you use, and most municipalities are trying to find savings anywhere they can.

"Amherstburg might be a bit unique in that we are the safest community in all of Canada for the fourth time out of five years, which makes our consideration not just about dollars obviously but also in service levels, something we've gotten really used to."

DiCarlo says regional policing is still a possibility. 

"You realize savings but you also maintain some local control. In dealing with the OPP, you will lay out what you expect for a service level but then after that, that is it. They decide how many police officers that means, cars, that sort of thing. So, the regional model does have some advantages over the provincial model and that is also something we would like to explore.

"However we need to find a willing municipality. So far, Essex has been interested in discussions, Windsor has been interested in discussions and recently ... Lasalle is also interested in those discussions."

But DiCarlo warns this is not a short-term process, saying, "it will take a while."

"This is something that could be two years before we decide," he said.

DiCarlo said the OPP is already providing a costing for several other municipalities.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara

OPP policing is nothing new for Tecumseh. The municipality has been using the OPP for years.

Tecumseh Mayor Gary McNamara says nearly three-quarters of Ontario municipalities have policing contracts with the OPP.

"There are 440 municipalities total in Ontario, 324 of them are policed by the OPP," he said.

'OPP a tremendous fit'

He's very pleased with the level of service in his town.

"For us, OPP has been a tremendous fit. We've had great experience and my advice to [Amherstburg] is I think they are doing it right and they're basically going to reach out to see what is the best fit for their municipality," McNamara said.

McNamara quickly pointed to the global cost of policing as a reason to weight options.

"It's very, very expensive, no doubt. On most of us, it's the biggest piece on our operating budgets," he said. "The global policing costs in Ontario are the highest anywhere in Canada and growing at a high rate, some of it two to three times the rate of inflation."

He says Tecumseh was not immune to paying more for policing and several municipalities wanted to know why there is so much disparity between communities.

"At the time, we couldn't really get a straight answer in terms of why is one municipality per capita much lower than their neighbours. Communities likewise is size, demographics, crime rates, etc - and in particular across the province, crime rates going down - and so the [Ontario Auditor] General, in his report at the time, basically said they had to look and open things up, be more transparent and had to figure out how they worked out their billing model."

New billing model lowers costs

McNamara says this was troublesome because some municipalities "were paying as little as $9 per household and some were paying over $2,000 per household."

Now, things have changed. The new OPP billing model has two components: 60 per cent for base service and 40 per cent for service calls.

In 2013, Tecumseh's policing cost was $335.99 per household. In the previous model, the 2014 forecasted cost was $522.42 per household.

Cost savings aside, McNamara points to the 2014 fire at the Bonduelle plant as a major benefit of OPP policing.

"That day in particular was a huge event that occurred in our municipality. When I declared an emergency in the community, you need the boots on the ground. When I did that, the staff sergeant of the day basically [made] a phone call and I had 200 officers on the ground, in our community, immediately," he said. "So they basically pulled all of the adjoining municipalities, their force here and they back-fed from all of the counties in the area.

"So, you can see, with our contract with the OPP, we have the access of the province at our fingertips."

DiCarlo says the process is just beginning in Amherstburg and there will be opportunities for residents to give their feedback.

"We have talked to other municipalities who have switched and they did also mention there is a disconnection. For example, Amherstburg police are very involved in their community and you do see them in local events," DiCarlo said. "I understand that when you switch to OPP, that's something you might not notice. The OPP likely won't be sending officers to go hang out at your sidewalk sale or Mardi Gras or whatever it is that you're having, right? It's just another thing you might notice different.

"The strong majority [residents], let's say, has said that they are very happy with our local municipal police force and they would be prepared to pay more to keep them that way."