The North Star has featured a series of well written articles in the past month concerning the deliberations at Sequin Township Council regarding the option of creating and operating a municipal police force. Seguin is hopeful that other area municipalities, particularly the deep-pocketed municipalities of Carling Township and The Archipelago, will join with them to share and defray the start up and ongoing operational costs of a municipal police force. Seguin is looking to save at least 20% of their eventual Ontario Provincial Police bill. The area municipalities have yet to feel the full impact of the OPP cost changes because the Province has decided to phase the increases in over a five-year period.
Here are some things the Staff, Council and residents of the surrounding municipalities may wish to consider as they debate and decide on local policing.
OPP protection is less a service than it is insurance. The insurance includes competent and capable policing that acts to deter crime. It’s like home insurance. After paying home insurance for more than thirty years, with no claims, it would perhaps have made better sense to self-insure. I would have saved a bundle of money over the past three decades. But would I have had the necessary protection if there were a major fire, or a flood, or a burglary? Could I have qualified for a mortgage without insurance? The municipalities make the argument that they have only a limited number of calls for the police per year and the effective cost per call is too high. Well if you keep your calls for service down you will have lower costs in the long run because the costing is calculated on a per resident charge plus a call for service formula.
Get over the sticker shock. The surrounding municipalities have been living a subsidized existence when it comes to policing costs. This was the reason for the revised two part cost formula implemented by the Province, a, a basic cost per residence (insurance cost) and a cost per incident (service cost). It’s like a service contract on a furnace where you pay a flat fee per year and that gets you a free cleaning, but you pay a deductible if you have a furnace problem and need extra service. The municipalities will still be paying less than that charged to the ‘lawless’ residents of Parry Sound with the new pricing model, and won’t have the ‘pleasure’ of OPP vehicles rushing through their towns to get to a neighbouring municipality.
Do-it-yourself may be more expensive. As expensive as it seems to establish a police force, it will cost even more to dissolve a police force. I have heard that the second happiest day of a boat owner’s life is the day they buy their boat. There are estimates that it will cost about $2 million to set up a municipal police force between the expenses for equipment and a new facility. That figure doesn’t seem to sit well with some members of Seguin Council and they think it’s too high. It’s not! I have yet to see a major project come in under budget. Budget for the $2 million, add in another 25% for unforeseen circumstances, and work like the devil to come in under budget. Don’t start with the thought that you can do it do it for even less. And remember, if you decide it doesn’t work the wind down costs would the same, or even more. Separation packages for police officers aren’t cheap, and specialized used equipment usually gets sold for 25 cents on the dollar.
Will the possible savings represent good value? That 20% savings Seguin is hoping for amounts to what, $250,000 or so annually? Yes that’s a big figure, and if your business model is to be the low cost, low service, municipality then you have a bit of a problem. So you will pay about $2 million upfront to perhaps save $250,000 per year. Hmm, that means an eight-year pay back not considering inflation. Add in even limited inflation and it gets to be ten years. Add in cost overruns and it more like twelve years. And if it doesn’t work out and you start getting the municipal police problems seen in too many small community police forces and you decide to wind it down. Ouch, ouch, ouch. But why not get a few of your neighbours to join in and share the pain, I means the savings?
Small police forces too often lead to big problems. An article in USA Today noted that small police forces don’t have the resources to provide qualified oversight, do proper training, and properly monitor performance. Read the article and don’t assume that Seguin is Mayberry and you will have Andy Griffith and Barney Fife running the show. Actually that might be a great example of the type of policing you will get, except this is real life, not a television script.
Someone needs to take responsibility. Do local councils really want the responsibility of managing a police force? In the case of Seguin, Carling and The Archipelago perhaps they have the time to keep a close eye on a police force in terms of costs and quality control. They don’t have much to worry about beyond road maintenance and making sure they don’t anger the seasonal residents by doing anything that might raise property taxes. Parry Sound Council has their hands full running a real town with real services in addition to managing services for the District. But hey, if the municipal policing thing really doesn’t work out the councillors can always choose to not run for reelection and let someone else clean up the mess.
I look forward to following the OPP deliberations at Seguin Township Council, and may even drop by for a couple of meetings. From what I have read things are starting to heat up. Why watch reality television, when you have council meetings? It’s not as scripted and there is no post production editing.
Handle With Care!