News that the West Nipissing Council has voted to toss out its local police force in favour of the OPP has board chairman Barry Bertrand frustrated
"Obviously the Board is very, very, very disappointed. Having done various business plans and finished the Oracle survey it's obvious the people of West Nipissing wish to continue with the West Nipissing Police Service but it seems like council has its own agenda to move us out of there, so we're very disappointed."\
The survey clearly shows that only 25 per cent of the population wants the OPP as opposed to 51 per cent wanting the local service to remain.
"This goes back to the amalgamation in 1999 where the outlying areas had OPP and Sturgeon Falls had its own police service and when amalgamation happened there were concerns that they didn't want Sturgeon Falls to expand so it's been an ongoing issue for the outside area to want the OPP back in. they had the votes and decided to go in that direction," Bertrand explained.
So now it's a waiting game. The request will have to go to the OCPC (Ontario Civilian Police Commission) to get approval. The Commission conducts hearings into requests for the reduction, abolition, creation or amalgamation of police services.
Bertrand isn't sure how long that will take, or if the new building has to be constructed first before the OPP will even agree to move in.
But it may not be a done deal yet, with a municipal election on the horizon.
"By the time the election comes, if our service is still around and they haven't taken over yet there is still a chance of turning it around. It all comes down to dollars and cents obviously.
"This current council is willing to bet that eight years from now they'll start to see cost savings. If they're not afraid to spend $8 million on a new building and $2 1/2 million on severance then I can't see a new council who wants to reverse it have any issues with what the cost would be at that time either. It comes down to what the people want and how far we 're along in the process."
Meanwhile, Bertrand isn't concerned with the decision affecting the morale of the existing officers.
"This is the second time it's happened in five years and when you have this cloud hanging over your head it does affect morale but our guys have battled and worked through it and done a really good job. Obviously, they'll be disappointed, there's a lot of unknowns but I'm fully confident that they will do the job without any issues."
But he is concerned that there will be a drastic drop in local representation.
"Right now we have our own police board consisting of two provincial appointees, two council members and a lay person appointed by council from West Nipissing, so we have five people representing the area. We can control the budget, we can control all aspects of policing as required by the needs of the people of West Nipissing.
"When we go to the OPP under the new Police Service Act, they'll be going to a new regional board much like DNSSAB (District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board) where we'll have one person from West Nipissing of a board of 10 people and that board will be advisory only so the funding that will be coming down will come from the province, and just like hospitals, regardless of the needs, when the money is tight they'll be closing beds and hospitals like they do.
"It will be the same thing for the OPP for our area, if money is tight, money comes down from the top and it's spread thinner and thinner and you won't have a say in the policing. That should be a major concern for the people of West Nipissing."