Billings to take policing concerns to premier, OPP commissioner

KAGAWONG—Billings township council is taking its concerns on the proposed location of the new Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) building in Little Current, and what this will mean in terms of police service coverage across the Island, to the premier of Ontario and the OPP commissioner’s office.

Billings Councillor Brian Parker, a member of the Manitoulin Community Police Advisory Committee, told fellow councillors at a meeting last week, “there was a long discussion at our CPAC meeting on the building to be located in Little Current. One of the things I said is that it would mean the two main detachments for our area will be in Espanola and Little Current and it means two-plus hours for officers to travel to Meldrum Bay.” He noted that Manitoulin OPP Staff Sergeant Detachment Commander Kevin Webb had explained that Infrastructure Ontario (IO) had made the decision on the new office location, not the OPP.

Councillor Parker noted as that Central Manitoulin Mayor Richard Stephens said his council had wrote to the province asking for consideration that the new OPP office be located in Mindemoya. Billings had also made this same request.

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Staff Sergeant Webb, “gave us a name and a number of someone with IO we could call, but I think we have to go up the ladder. A lot of people are not happy that both the main OPP offices in this detachment are going to be located close together, basically at one end of the Island. It doesn’t make sense to me not to have the new office located centrally on the Island,” said Councillor Parker. 

“Should we not be sending a letter indicating our concerns with the proposed location of the new (OPP) building and police service coverage being affected, for the whole Island,” said Councillor Barb Erskine.

It was pointed out Central Manitoulin had indicated it wanted the new office to be located in Central Manitoulin, or at the very least the current detachment office remaining to have the current office in town remain (an action Gore Bay council also took).

“Even with the province having purchased the land (in Little Current) for the new OPP office, is there anything we can do?”asked Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack.

“Maybe we need to send a letter to an even higher authority (other than IO) voicing our concerns,” suggested Mr. Parker. “I think we need to send a letter to the premier and the OPP Commissioner on our concerns that this office should be centralized and with OPP coverage, and bring this to the MMA (Manitoulin Municipal Association) for their support as well.”

“What is something happens in Meldrum Bay?” asked Councillor Alkenbrack.

“Not only do officers have to get to Meldrum Bay, but they have to travel back and forth to the OPP detachment offices,” said Councillor Parker.    

Mayor Austin Hunt told council he understands after the new OPP building is constructed on the Island only two of the three remaining detachment offices will remain open (Manitowaning, Mindemoya and Gore Bay) are slated to remain open.  “He (Staff Sergeant Webb) was saying that the officers would be managed out of the one central location and that if any other detachment offices are  closed there will still be alternatives the police can look at to provide coverage around the Island.”

“The fact of the matter is that it’s what our resident (on the Island) need in terms of policing services that is important,” said Councillor Alkenbrack.

Councillor Parker said he understood one of the options that could be looked at is having the OPP based in storefront locations in communities where there is no office location. The offices would have a desk, chair and phone and would not be manned on a regular basis as is the case now.                          

“Officers then would not be able to respond as quickly if there is not an office in a community. This is a scary situation,” said Councillor Erskine.

Mayor Hunt pointed out the province (specifically IO) has already made a decision on the new OPP location and purchased the property in NEMI Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands.

However, “I’ve seen decisions made before and being changed,” said Councillor Alkenbrack.

“As Richard Stephens said at the CPAC meeting very little consultation was done by the province in selecting this location,” said Councillor Parker.

Councillor Erskine noted “we had a three percent inflation rate increase in our policing costs this year. We can’t have more costs and less police service.”

Council passed a resolution directing, “the clerk-treasurer to write a letter regarding council’s concerns about the location of the new OPP office on Manitoulin and about concerns about the adequacy of police service coverage across the island. The letter will be addressed to the Premier of Ontario, OPP Commissioner and copied to staff sergeant Kevin Webb and the Sudbury OPP superintendent.”