Editorial: Community trust is a vital commodity when it comes to policing

The recent announcement of the closure of two satellite police stations on Manitoulin Island dropped like a bolt out of the blue for local elected officials who had been promised that they would be consulted before any such action took place.

There may be plenty of good reasons why those stations were declared redundant and no longer play a meaningful role in helping to keep the peace on Manitoulin and were therefore superfluous to public safety, but there was an explicit obligation on the part of the provincial government when they downloaded the cost of policing onto the tax rolls of residents and property owners. That obligation, fundamental to an open and transparent democracy, was to include those who paid the piper when making up the song list.

To that end, various community policing advisory conduits were set up, including the latest Community Policing Advisory Committee, which is itself currently under review. That committee, generally referred to by the less cumbersome acronym of CPAC, learned of the decision to close the substations long after the decision was made.

The current provincial government is fond of touting the hunt for “efficiencies,” generally accomplished by unilaterally cutting the budgets of various government departments and letting the bureaucrats scramble to do the heavy lifting of implementing the service cuts that lie beneath the political rhetoric.

So it was that the OPP budget was slashed by $30 million. Perhaps the resulting “efficiencies” being implemented are not connected to the closure of the substations, but without meaningful consultation, who knows? Even our elected MPP was not privy to the decision before it was handed down from on high.

Of course, there were assurances by the provincial government of Premier Doug Ford that those cuts were not to impact the frontline services provided to communities, or the officer on the beat. One could even interpret those cuts as some kind of a prescient response to “defund the police,” the current rallying cry for seeking social justice from our legal system. 

But beware the promises of princes.

The first efficiency to see the light of public day was the oddly picayune decision to no longer provide secretarial services, i.e. the taking of minutes, during CPAC meetings. Even though those meetings were ostensibly being held to ensure that the communities’ (read: the people paying the bills) concerns were being heard at the detachment command level. Further, those written records served as a mnemonic aid for those making decisions that impact local community safety. 

Greater transparency? More accountability? We think not.

The recent assertion that the decision to close the substations in Mindemoya and Manitowaning was made, not at the local level by the detachment commander or even at the regional or provincial command levels, but rather by an agency charged with overseeing provincial property holdings is beyond simply alarming—it defies the tenets of basic managerial logic.

The decision to close those two OPP detachments may well have been a sound and sensible efficiency. It may well be that officers now do the work once completed at the desk in a brick and mortar office on a tablet in their cruiser. But the deterrent impact of a highly visible police detachment office on the major highway running from the ferry to the bridge will be gone. The sight of cruisers and a police office located beside the shelter protecting women and children fleeing domestic abuse will no longer add to the succor of those most vulnerable.

Perhaps worst of all is the fact that despite assurances and promises to the contrary, despite paying the vast bulk of the freight (policing costs lie at the very top of municipal budget expenses), there was no conduit for a local voice to provide input into this decision. 

There have been assurances made that the substation by the Town of Gore Bay is not currently on the efficiency block—but wither now lies our trust?

The communities of Manitoulin Island lie far from the seat of power in Queen’s Park and we have become far too accustomed to the decisions impacting our lives at the local level being dictated by faceless bureaucrats. Public services should not be determined solely on the number of beans contained in the recipe or the heat emanating from dominant political orifices—the chef should consult the diner on their tastes, if they are to be presented with the bill.