EVANSVILLE—Statistics provided by the Manitoulin Ontario Provincial Police show that in 2011, the township of Burpee and Mills had zero criminal offences, six property crimes, two of which were solved, three solved criminal code infractions and five out of nine crime calls cleared, (a 55.6 percent clearance rate), which is more than double the provincial average.
Manitoulin OPP Staff Sergeant Kevin Webb took some time to speak with township council members at their meeting on May 4.
Along with the statistics, Mr. Webb discussed the Early Resolution Option (ERO) being introduced into the courts of Gore Bay and Little Current; and how the OPP funding is divided between the municipalities and the province.
Sgt. Webb eliminated some concerns council had with the ERO.
“Our committee (Provincial Offences Act) has decided to go ahead with this, but my concern was mainly a lot of this is going to be telephone dealings between the prosecutor and the individual and there’s a lot of room for things to go wrong, but the impression I get is that the Justice of the Peace (JP) will approve the final decision,” said councillor Pentti Palonen.
“I think what the new process is trying to do is streamline a process that is already there,” Sgt. Webb said. “There’s no opportunity for that individual to plead not guilty or guilty with an excuse prior to going to court. These negotiations are done in the courtroom, so when we go to court, you’ll have however many police officers involved, if there’s any witnesses involved, and the guilty part involved.”
“So you’ve got these people tied up in court for a process, which from my understanding is going to be exactly what this new process (ERO) is, but doing it before it gets to the courtroom,” said Mr. Webb. “It will shorten up court time, provide cost savings to witnesses, and police can do a lot more things than stand in court.”
“Manitoulin Island has been selected as one of the testing grounds for this program,” said Mr. Webb. “I know there has been concerns about the money that goes back to the municipalities for fines, which goes to pay administration costs, but I don’t think there will be any impact on that. It’s just going to eliminate the middle process.”
Sgt. Webb said this will cut a lot of expenses across the board and anything that can be done to alleviate the stress of the court is good. There are police officers in court all day that will never testify, but have to be there just in case, he said, pointing out if they aren’t there, the penalty is dropped.
One of the reasons the POA committee approved the ERO, Mr. Palonen explained, is because of Manitoulin’s high tourist traffic in the summer. For example, an individual will end up with a small driving infraction and then in order to deal with it, they have to physically come back to the Island to appear in court.
“All that is doing is creating a lot of bad feelings, so if there’s a way for the individual to deal with that within the legal limits, then that would be a big advantage,” Mr. Palonen said. “If he’s got an offence, any provincial offence that he can sort out a deal ahead of time, he doesn’t have to worry about spending $500 to get here and back for a $100 fine.”
“The biggest consideration is the impact on insurance, that’s why they make arrangements for someone saying ‘I did it, I’m responsible, but can we sort it out’,” said Sgt. Webb. He explained, for example, if you are given a ticket for careless driving and you admit guilt with a justifiable reason, you may have your offence reduced to following too close.
“Most of our infractions on the highway involve people who will only deal with the law once in their life,” said Sgt. Webb. “These aren’t criminals, but for highway safety, we have to do our jobs and ensure the safety of the public on the highway, but I think this is a great process. It’s about time.”
The provincial offenses that fall under the new process are Part 1 offences, which include some driving infractions, commercial vehicle infractions, and small Ministry of Natural Resources and Ministry of Environment offences, to name a few.
“No criminal, no drug offences, even some of the more serious traffic infractions do not qualify, this is only for Part 1. For offences we have Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3; Part 3 is offences where we give them a notice to go to court, like suspended driving,” continued Sgt. Webb.
Sgt. Webb wasn’t sure how the point system for licences would be addressed in this system, but Mr. Palonen said the POA is waiting for a review to be done by the Justice of the Peace.
In terms of policing costs, Sgt. Webb told council 51 percent of the OPP wages and benefits is covered by the province, and the other 49 percent is what is divided between the municipalities in the province.
“The first thing they do is look at Manitoulin Island as a whole. The formula is: how many officers are necessary to ensure the residents of the Island are getting full service for every 24-hour period, there would be two officers available. Not necessarily two officers working, but there always has to be one officer available 24 hours a day to service the community,” he explained. “Then they look at geography––how many kilometres there are that need to be covered on highways and secondary roads on Manitoulin Island, and they look at certain calls for service like criminal cases, sudden deaths, missing persons, automobile accidents and investigations.”
“That goes into the formula and they come up with how many officers are required for Manitoulin Island,” said Sgt. Webb. Then the OPP look at the provincial side, he said. Manitoulin Island has 28 OPP officers. Using one officer as an example, consider support: there’s clerical staff, administrative costs, caretakers, building maintenance, fuel for cars. All of this is considered support, not to mention utilities (hydro, water, telephone bills), he told council.
“The way it works out with Manitoulin as a whole is just under 50 percent for wages and benefits for officers paid by municipalities,” said Sgt. Webb. Of the 49 percent paid by municipalities, 85 percent is in wages and benefits and 15 percent is support.
“Once they find out what Manitoulin Island owes as a whole, they divide it between the eight municipalities. A similar formula is used to divide the estimated cost between each municipality,” Sgt. Webb said. He pointed out the total bill for Burpee-Mills in 2011 was approximately $61,000.
“The thing I want to get across and what I will be speaking about again is, say you have an investigation in Evansville and all of a sudden you see 40 OPP officers for a missing person, and they’re dressed in their military gear, you don’t pay one cent, except for our officers,” he said.
Also, extra foot patrol, RIDE program, spot checks and seatbelt checks; any proactive police work has no fluctuation to the cost to the municipality according to the sergeant.
What municipalities pay for is the reactive work like fatalities. If there’s an investigation for two or three days, these costs impact the community financially. “This is why we do the proactive work, so we prevent the reactive work. First and foremost is public safety,” added the sergeant.