Island townships might negotiate police fees for OPP storefronts

Sergeant Rob Forcier demonstrates new cruiser technology during the Ontario Provincial Police Little Current detachment station open house held recently. photo by Warren Schlote

LITTLE CURRENT – Representatives from Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) hosted a public information session at the new Little Current detachment on Wednesday, September 9, allowing members of the public to ask questions of detachment and regional leadership.

“This brings Manitoulin into the modern era of policing with new technology,” said Megan Moriarity, the inspector and Manitoulin detachment commander. She delivered an address and answered questions alongside OPP North East Region superintendent Mike Pilon.

The public was invited to attend the information session but the only three individuals who attended the event besides members of the press had shown up for other meetings at the office.

Many of the talking points addressed the force’s decision to close the Manitowaning and Mindemoya detachment offices, both of which have been closed to the public for some years and only possess limited capacities for police work.

The six officers who worked out of those detachments will report to the new mega-detachment in Little Current when their bases close on October 2.

Police officials shared details behind the closure decision and listed the enhanced features at the new site that have been previously shared in this newspaper, including secure prisoner transfer areas, accessibility, adequate parking and a space for Manitoulin-North Shore Victim Services.

They added that there are new confidential spaces for a person in custody to meet with a lawyer.

Inspector Moriarity said modern policing technology turns cruisers into a rolling office and most job duties can take place within an officer’s car. This has reduced the need for officers to check into the detachments, a factor in the closure of the two buildings.

There are also more ways for the public to report incidents to OPP, including online, the 1-800-310-1122 phone line, 9-1-1 and text messages. 

A feature from the two former detachments that will also disappear are the phone boxes with a direct line to OPP headquarters. Inspector Moriarity said the public does not often use these call boxes due to widespread cell phone use, although the new building features one such box.

“The level of service we provide, staffing levels and patrol zones don’t change. The only difference is that officers will report here,” said Inspector Moriarity.

Both OPP officials estimated the complement of officers and civilian staff in the Manitoulin-Espanola cluster is more than 60.

“(This facility) is a real win for the community in the greater Manitoulin area. There is the unfortunate aspect of closing the (Manitowaning and Mindemoya) offices but our past restructurings in 1997 and 2006 have streamlined our operations,” said Superintendent Pilon. “The closures were a necessary part of the government’s bid to streamline costs.”

When asked about a previous statement that there were three more officers slated for the detachment this fall, Inspector Moriarity said there were some members currently in training at Ontario Police College and more coming after that. She declined to get into specifics about those numbers and noted that the Manitoulin detachment tends to have a lot of turnover.

In response to an inquiry about the Gore Bay detachment (which will not be closing at this time) and how officers would check in to the detachments based on their location, Superintendent Pilon explained that cruisers are all GPS tracked and equipped with closest-to-call technology, meaning the nearest officer to an incident will get instructions to respond.

Some of the rationale behind keeping Gore Bay open included the number of calls for service in that zone, its centralized area for Western Manitoulin and the cross-over with services at the district courthouse in that town.

The communities losing their detachments this fall have the option of opening a ‘storefront’ OPP office, something Inspector Moriarity had previously mentioned to The Expositor. While OPP would cover officer and equipment costs, host municipalities have to pay to rent the space.

When asked whether or not municipalities could reduce their annual service fees to neutralize the cost of hosting such a centre, the officials said such opportunities may be possible. Municipalities and the community policing advisory committee negotiate their fees with OPP central administration, said Superintendent Pilon.

“There are opportunities to have discussions with the municipalities about continuing to have an OPP footprint in their communities,” he said.