Police services board plays key role

Duane Hicks

Fort Frances hosted the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards Zone 1 semi-annual meeting last Wednesday through Friday, drawing 40-50 delegates from across the region to discuss relevant issues.
But the average resident just might be asking themselves what does a police services board do?
“The prime function of the board is to provide governance to policing in the communities, and at the same time establish an arm’s-length between the elected part of the municipal government and the police part,” Tom Gervais, police services advisor for the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, explained in an interview Friday.
“It’s a long-established principle in Ontario that this works very well,” he added, noting it reduces the amount of political interference in some types of law enforcement decisions.
“The police services board plays a very important role in ensuring that policing is delivered in accordance with the wants and needs of the community,” stressed Gervais. “Usually, the boards that are operating very well are the most invisible.
“You have a board in Fort Frances that is doing a fine job,” he added. “They’re like unsung heroes. They’re doing a lot of work.”
Gervais gave a talk at last week’s conference on the relationship between police service boards and municipal councils.
“My role is to provide advice to police services boards, chiefs of police, at times detachment commanders, police associations.,” he noted. “I also monitor policing across all of Northern Ontario for the provincial government to ensure that adequate and effective policing is being delivered in each municipality.
“We also run the inspection program for municipal police forces.”
Gervais said one of the consistent themes when training police services boards, and an underlying cause of the need for assistance from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services, is the limits and various roles of the players involved.
“What are the responsibilities of the municipal council? What are the limits placed on a municipal council with respect to affecting policing? What’s the board’s duties and responsibilities as opposed to council’s?” he cited.
“How do those two bodies interact in ways that ensure council is getting good value for their dollar, because they’re responsible for putting up the bucks, that still preserves the role of the board in providing governance for policing at an arm’s length?” he added. “And what’s the role of the chief of police and detachment commander, and where are the limits of the role of the board in directing operational policing?
“It’s in those grey areas that occasionally conflicts arise, and we provide assistance and get everything back on a straight course.”
The Police Services Board here in Fort Frances consists of John McTaggart (chairman), Glenn Witherspoon, Ron Scofield, Mayor Roy Avis, Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, and Loreen Holt (secretary).