Council questions policing numbers

Duane Hicks

Town council is questioning why the Town of Fort Frances has a higher-than-average number of police officers.
At Monday night’s regular meeting, Coun. Ken Perry said he’s done research and determined the national average for police officers in communities is 2.0 officers per 1,000 people, but the ratio here is about 2.5 per 1,000.
“Why do we have more than the national average?” he asked.
Coun. Perry said he was prompted to do research as the town continues negotiating a new contract with the local OPP.
“The OPP told us they could probably reduce our costs a bit by taking out a couple of uniformed officers . . . that got me investigating things,” he added.
Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, who sits on the Police Services Board, said that as far as he knows, the OPP policing model is based on calls for service.
“The number of calls for service we have in this municipality generates 20 police officers,” he noted.
“Maybe that’s why we’re above the provincial average.”
Council referred the matter to the Police Services Board for further investigation.
Speaking more generally about staff reductions, Coun. Wiedenhoeft said he felt reducing the number of officers isn’t a decision made lightly.
For example, he said the position of community services officer is “a very valuable tool in preventative policing, and if you reduce the number of officers, some of the things in the service model may change.”
“We’re looking at other efficiencies and changing the service model in other areas, but that would be a concern of mine,” continued Coun. Wiedenhoeft.
“If the department were to decide that we need more officers on the street and the community services officer had to go by the wayside, I think that would be a tragedy.
“Yes, it costs money, but I think it’s money well-spent,” he stressed.
“I’d also hate to see a loss of service but at the same time, we’ve asked our administration to cut things to the bone, and through attrition, get rid of whatever we can and still maintain as much service as we can,” countered Coun. Perry.
“But we realize we’re at a spot right now where we’re going to have to start cutting some services,” he warned.
“A community services officer, I agree, is a valuable tool to the public and to the police, but when are we going to quit?”
“For the safety of the people in Fort Frances . . . the safety of the kids in school, the education of the kids in school—we’ve got really good service for the money that we pay,” said Coun. John Albanese.
“If we start jeopardizing some of the staff, there’s going to be bad morale in the OPP force,” he added.
“The people in Fort Frances, they need the peace of mind they’re safe, and that’s what my goal is—to make Fort Frances a safe community and not jeopardize the welfare of the people,” Coun. Albanese reiterated.
“My resolution, I don’t think, says we’re going to cut the police force; we’re going to look into why it’s over the national average,” clarified Coun. Perry.
“We have a right . . . as a community to ask why we have this many when other places don’t require that many,” agreed Coun. Sharon Tibbs.