Mayor needs to avoid police minefield or proceed with caution

By Robert Washburn

Cobourg Mayor Gil Brocanier

Cobourg Mayor Gil Brocanier cautiously told a local cable show host last week he is open to discussions with Port Hope around the creation of an amalgamated police force.

As Port Hope residents grapple with the recent cutbacks announced by the Port Hope Police Services Board, the Cobourg’s mayor should be extremely careful.

Acting on a request by Port Hope Council to make spending cuts, the police board announced it is looking at outsourcing its communications services and it will cut three officers, reducing its force to 23 from 26. Between the closure and the layoffs, 14 jobs will be lost. There are also other changes to the service included in the 10-year strategic plan, including a reduction in hours the police station is open to the public.

The rationale for the cutbacks may be based on facts and figures, but the ghosts of the contentious debate over policing last year looms in the wings.

After a bitter battle between those who supported a local force and those who wanted the OPP, council narrowly voted to keep its own force. The losers vowed cutbacks would take place. It seems like payback for those who lost the vote for the OPP. It seems the report says, if taxpayers want to keep the force, then it will be eviscerated to the point where it cannot function properly.

However, Cobourg Police Chief Kai Liu stirred the pot when he suggested Cobourg might be interested in providing communications for Port Hope.

The chief’s optimism can be attributed to his status as a relative newcomer to the area and its politics. And, it is refreshing, but misplaced. However, Brocanier should know better.

The amalgamation of Cobourg and Port Hope police forces make perfect sense, but it will never happen. It is the Gordian knot of local politics between the two towns.

It may be useful to take a trip down memory lane.

Recall when former Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty was campaigning during his first run for the mayor’s office in 2000. He slammed the previous council for not creating a better relationship with Port Hope. He promised to make things a lot better.

Yet in 2002, Delanty and Port Hope Mayor Rick Austin were all in favour of a joint force. The police associations from both forces publicly backed the idea. But the Port Hope Police Services Board would have none of it.

Then, former Police Chief Gary Clement, a former RCMP superintendent with 30 years experience arrived. He also promised to get a deal with Port Hope a few years later.

Nope.

It was former Chief Paul Sweet’s who took a wise approach. His secret was to leave it alone.

Now, the chickens have come home to roost in Port Hope.

In 2009, an independent consultation told the police board it needed to spend $250,000 to upgrade communications equipment. It would need to continue to spend money each year for a total of $1.6 million by 2019. Communications has been vulnerable for years.

Only last month three potential sites for a new station were being debated. It would seem the time is ripe to join forces and save even more money. But, the momentum appears to be so great nobody will stop it now.

Not to be overly pessimistic, but Port Hope seems hell bent on following its own path regardless. It always has. The case for the creation of a single force for West Northumberland has been made many, many times. And, each time, the timing seemed right. The efficiencies are obvious and it could be cost effective.

However, the longstanding tension between Port Hope and Cobourg has existed for much longer. It is deep, like the roots of a very old tree.

There is little more to be done. Maybe, it would be nice to wish Chief Liu good luck. But, Mayor Brocanier should stay silent.

In the meantime, they may wish to buy some lottery tickets. They have a better chance of winning.