An increasing number of municipalities are wondering what exactly they are getting for the millions of dollars they pay each year for OPP policing.
Staffing shortages have become chronic to the point where police boards are asking whether they are paying for services they aren’t receiving.
Locally, the Norfolk OPP is short nine front-line officers while Haldimand OPP is staffed at 60 per cent. The Haldimand detachment relies on Norfolk officers in emergencies in what the provincial force calls a “borderless policing” strategy.
“The OPP is pocketing money from municipalities but not delivering services,” says Dennis Travale, chair of the Norfolk Police Services Board. “This has been going on for a while.”
A total of 150 municipalities have contracts with the OPP. Pending retirements at the management level promise to complicate staffing shortages in the field.
At its annual general meeting in May, the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards passed a resolution asking the OPP’s Municipal Policing Bureau to provide an explanation of its staffing practices along with an accounting of how much it collects for officers that are not in the field or on the payroll.
The association also wants a dialogue with the Ministry of the Solicitor-General, the agency at Queen’s Park responsible for policing matters in Ontario.
Travale says the OPP in West Region, which is based in London, is short 100 officers. With each front-line constable costing about $150,000 a year, Travale said that’s $15 million worth of policing municipalities are not receiving. As a conservative estimate, Travale said the total value of undelivered policing services in OPP jurisdictions across Ontario could be as high as $45 million a year.
“You’re collecting money from municipalities and it’s going into your coffers,” Travale said. “What are you doing with it? Are we going to get a rebate at the end of the year?”
Dunnville Coun. Bernie Corbett, chair of the Haldimand PSB, says front-line shortages in Haldimand have been chronic for years. In recent months, the problem has been acute. Were it not for Norfolk officers backfilling in crisis situations, Corbett says Haldimand couldn’t responded in a timely manner in some cases.
Both Travale and Corbett report OPP brass are unmoved by the complaints. PSBs are told the standard is “adequate and effective policing,” and that so long as the OPP is delivering that the provincial force is holding up its end of the bargain.
For their part, police boards find this metric inadequate.
“That’s like trying to nail Jello to the wall,” Corbett says.
The Haldimand PSB was encouraged to learn recently that another eight constables will join the detachment in Cayuga in September. Even so, that will leave the Haldimand detachment about four officers short.
Travale was also careful to steer criticism away from the detachment level. Travale has been assured that recruitment efforts at the Norfolk OPP are serious and ongoing.
The Ministry of the Solicitor-General wants to remain above the fray. In an email, spokesperson Stephen Warner says the Ford government “cannot direct police operations, including deployment.”
“We have confidence in Ontario’s policing leaders, including local detachment commanders and OPP Commissioner (Thomas) Carrique to address operational concerns that police services boards may have.”
Warner adds the province pays 99 percent of the OPP’s annual $1.1-billion budget. Municipalities cover the remaining one per cent.
Warner says 75 per cent of municipalities under contract to the OPP pay less than the $359 average cost-per-property under the current billing method. In Norfolk County, the annual cost-per-property is $405. The cost of policing in Norfolk this year is about $12.2 million.
“Municipalities are responsible for ensuring adequate and effective policing,” Warner said. “Police service boards have the authority to provide policing personnel the tools and resources they deem necessary to ensure community safety in the jurisdictions they serve.”
Warner says the Ontario Police College in Aylmer has devised methods for delivering training safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says basic constable training classes resumed in Aylmer this month.