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OCPC approves disbandment of WN Police, but Police Board is not backing down

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by Suzanne Gammon

The municipality of West Nipissing has won a battle against the WN Police Services Board, but the war between the two rages on. On August 29, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) announced it was approving the town’s application to disband the West Nipissing Police Service and move forward with a transition to the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP). This came despite opposition from the Police Board, who had lobbied the OCPC to delay its decision until the Ontario Superior Court could do a full Judicial Review of the town’s resolution. The Board’s case for Judicial Review, based on allegations that municipal council acted in bad faith and was biased in opting for the OPP, will be heard in Sudbury on Oct. 10.

The Board won its own battle back in July, when Justice A.D. Kurke of the Superior Court of Ontario in Sudbury imposed a stay on the town’s resolution, ruling that the transition could not occur before the Judicial Review. However, the judge also encouraged the OCPC to continue its assessment of the application, so that the town could move without delay after the review. He said he fully anticipated the town would be successful in defending its decision, as elected councils have authority to choose their community’s policing supplier and the Board would have a heavy burden to show the decision had been made improperly.

The OCPC said it relied on the judge’s written comments specifically asking that the process continue, and also on a precedent from a similar case in Kenora where the court ruled that “it is legally inconsistent for a police services board to have jurisdiction to decide to disband when it plays no role in selecting the manner of service delivery.”

The OCPC outlined the analysis that led to its decision, stressing that its role is only to ensure that proper severance agreements have been reached and that adequate policing services will be maintained, before allowing a disbandment and transition. “The police to population ratio in West Nipissing is one uniformed officer for every 652.9 residents. The ratio of police to population under the proposal will be one uniformed officer to every 296.8 residents,” reads the report, adding that West Nipissing will become part of the Sudbury zone detachment.

This zone will have its headquarters in Cache Bay, in a new 17,000 sq. ft. facility, which has been the subject of much debate as it will cost an estimated $8 million to build, with the province expected to pay roughly half of that cost. A chart in the OCPC report shows the new detachment with a total of 74 uniformed officers and 9.25 civilian employees, compared to 22 officers and 5 civilians under the current WN Police.

“I am satisfied that adequate and effective police services will continue to be provided to the residents of West Nipissing under the proposal,” wrote OCPC Associate Chair D. Stephen Jovanovic.

He was also satisfied with the severance provisions for staff, and indicated that “as is typically the situation, it is not known at this time how many of the current employees of the WNPS will be offered, or will accept if offered, employment with the OPP. The Commissioner of the OPP reserves the right to review the suitability of any civilian or uniform employee.” The OPP had repeated, during its presentations and subsequent interviews, that they expected to keep the local officers, barring anything unforeseen in their file, as they will need more, not fewer officers than the current complement.

One thing the OCPC did not consider was the financial impact of the transition, saying this “is a matter for the consideration of municipal officials rather than the Commission.” Nevertheless, the report outlined some of the numbers. “The rationale for contracting with the OPP by West Nipissing is an attempt to rein in the escalating cost of maintaining its municipal police force,” it wrote, adding the proposed contract with OPP will cost an estimated $4,112,939 the first year, plus an additional start-up cost of $617,429 for uniform and equipment, for a total of $4,730,368. In addition, there would be “facility” charges annually starting at $601,263 in 2018, though it is expected much of this will be recouped as West Nipissing will own the facility and rent it out as the zone headquarters. “According to the information provided by West Nipissing, it may not achieve any savings in costs until 2021,” reads the report.

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