Assiginack council questions impact of centralizing all OPP administration for Island, Espanola

ASSIGINACK—Manitoulin detachment commander, Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb recently addressed Assiginack council’s concerns regarding the fate of the Manitowaning detachment and the current level of staffing. The staff sergeant admitted that Manitoulin is not up to its full complement of frontline officers, but that the level of service provided by the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) has not changed.

Councillor Brenda Reid began the deputation by asking the staff sergeant for an update on the new detachment, slated for Little Current, as well as the detachment buildings currently in use across the Island, including one on Highway 6 in Manitowaning.

“The decision for (choosing) Little Current (for the new headquarters) was not an OPP decision,” Staff Sgt. Webb responded, noting that he found out about the new location the same day the municipalities did.

To address any concerns with the decision-making process, he suggested council contact Infrastructure Ontario.

“As for the four other facilities (the current detachments are in Manitowaning, Mindemoya, Gore Bay and Espanola), the information I’ve received is they are separate issues,” he added.

The staff sergeant told council that when a plan of action for the new detachment is announced, the OPP will then look at the deployment strategy for Manitoulin. This could mean storefront offices or keeping one or more of the current detachment buildings.

“Central Manitoulin is growing, Manitowaning is located beside the Island’s largest community and Gore Bay has the court house—these are all things to consider,” he said.

Staff Sgt. Webb assured the council that there will be a larger discussion involving all the municipalities as to how the police services will be delivered.

“Police still need to respond to a community that’s 150 km long with a population that grows between 10,000 and 30,000 in the summer,” he added. “This is a conversation that hasn’t even begun.”

“When we know when the contract is awarded and what the build time is, the talks will begin; what’s the policing, on and off duty, going to look like in these communities?” the staff sergeant continued.

Staff Sgt. Webb went on to commend the “dedicated” municipal Community Policing Advisory Committee representatives.

As to the issue of active duty officers—an issue that had been raised by Assiginack council previously—Staff Sgt. Webb admitted that the numbers of OPP officers on Manitoulin has diminished for several reasons, but that data entry is now a specific job and does not rest on the frontline officers who were often bogged down by paperwork.

“My goal is to ensure that the proactive part of policing is at the root of it,” he said, “responding proactively, reducing crime. It’s paying off.”

An example of this, he said, is getting information, building cases and then acting on them, pointing to the officer whose job is solely to deal with drug cases. In the last quarter, the OPP has had 13 drug-related calls for service and almost all were proactive (meaning officer initiated), he said. “Out of those 13, nine involved search warrants—at least double from five years ago.”

“We have challenges with the number of people we have, but we are operating at what the province says is an acceptable level of service,” he said.

As for rumours that some officers are working alone, he said that information is false, but said there are some times when an additional officer needs to be called in to assist. He also spoke of the good working relationship between the OPP and the UCCM Anishnaabe Police and Wikwemikong Tribal Police and the how each of the police services helps the others when needed.

“There are enough people to respond to all the municipalities, unorganized townships and First Nations,” Staff Sgt. Webb said. “If the OPP requires all its officers, for instance, the UCCM knows this and will respond and assist accordingly.”

Councillor Leslie Fields asked the staff sergeant for actual numbers of active duty officers. He told council he that he couldn’t share this information as it was a matter of public safety.

“Our officers here work very hard, but never put our communities in a situation where the officers don’t have backup,” the detachment commander added.

“So UCCM or Wikwemikong will respond?” Councillor Fields asked.

“Yes, could and have,” Staff Sgt. Webb responded. “We have the failsafe. And it goes both ways.”

Between all the detachments, including Espanola, there are 40 constables, six sergeants and himself, one staff sergeant. He also noted that the OPP will go to 22-hour service in the next week.

The staff sergeant explained that he has a full-time analyst employed who finds information that points to the times and places that need greater attention.

Councillor Reid asked whether the number of calls for service will play a role in whether a detachment closes. In Assiginack and Tehkummah, the calls for service equate to about 11 percent.

“Not necessarily,” Staff Sgt. Webb said. “Every one of the communities could benefit from a police presence.” While he would consider this as ideal, it’s not likely going to happen, he said.

“With the exception of that 5 am call (when there are no officers on duty), we can police the same way we always have—even if it’s out of one building,” he said. “That’s not my vision, though.”

A police presence, he added, could mean a cruiser in that community (an officer living in that community would take the cruiser home if it’s not needed elsewhere).

Councillor Fields pointed to the Tehkummah OPP storefront office, which “slowly faded away,” doubting that it wasn’t done intentionally.

“Well, I wouldn’t waste my time,” Staff Sgt. Webb said of putting something in place that would not be a permanent solution.

“Whose job is it to make a claim to the decision makers (on keeping the detachments open)? Your job? Our job?” Councillor Fields queried.

“Both of our jobs,” he said.

Mayor Paul Moffatt said that if Manitowaning loses its detachment, how would they convince an officer to move to the community in order to have a cruiser presence. The staff sergeant agreed that that could be of concern. “You’re right, if they’re not coming here, where do they want to be? Probably closer to the new detachment. This will probably be an issue for any new hires.”

Staff Sgt. Webb said it is a safe assumption that at least some of the current detachments will eventually close or go up for sale.

“Is it time to start lobbying Infrastructure Ontario?” Councillor Fields asked.

“Perhaps it is,” he responded.

Councillor Fields pointed to the presence of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) conservation officers in the Manitowaning detachments. Staff Sgt. Webb explained that they were there as guests of the OPP and this would have no bearing on the decision-making process.

She asked whether there is an obligation to include municipalities in any closure discussions. He said that he feels obliged, but added that nothing will happen until more information is known.

He also told council he felt it was doubtful that the area would be limited to only one detachment, considering its size.

“We’re looking at yourself and your agency being proactive with us rather than us having to be reactive after-the-fact,” the mayor addressed the staff sergeant.

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