Police associations herald single force for West Northumberland

First published:
July 31, 2002

Once again, the rank and file of the local police forces displayed their joint leadership by meeting on July 18 to discuss a merger. Cobourg police association president Stan Sokay and Port Hope association present Paul Spencer heralded the virtues of one force for Hamilton Township, Cobourg and Port Hope’s two wards.

The timing is excellent. Cobourg is looking for a new chief before the end of the year and reviewing the state of its aging police station. Port Hope is searching for a new building, too. Taxpayers would no doubt benefit. A single administration would save huge dollars. The officers don’t care who cuts their pay cheques. One dispatch system would be able to serve the west end. There is also a cost saving for prisoner transportation, criminal investigation, crime scene investigation, and, on a more basic level, buying supplies in bulk. And these are only a few of the potential savings.

Both mayors support the idea. Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty welcomes the opportunity for a single new chief and a deputy chief for each force. However, he recognized Port Hope may not be as willing.

Port Hope Mayor Rick Austin acknowledged the savings, but says the Port Hope Police Services Board does not want to go ahead.

Three years ago the police boards looked at amalgamation but could not reach a deal. Since then, Port Hope faced a serious fight over creating a single police force for its newly amalgamated municipality. Unable to reach an agreement to have the town’s force patrol the former Hope Township, it was left to the OPP to continue the job.

While the police associations were holding their own meetings this month, the two councils decided to hold their own quite sessions. They chose to be away from the public’s eye, despite assurances the meetings were open to taxpayers. The results of the meetings were sent back to the respective police boards with Port Hope killing the idea.

The reasons were Port Hope’s board did not want to inherit any of Cobourg’s problems. This included a search for a new chief and a pending inspection by the Solicitor General’s office in the aftermath of the drinking and driving debacle involving former Chief John Kay and Deputy Chief Kyle Foster. Foster was found not guilty.

Taxpayers from both towns should not be surprised by Port Hope’s reaction. This board struggled for years to find its own policing solution. It has barely been a year since that agreement was put in place and nobody wants to stir up that hornet’s nest. The way rural residents fought for continued OPP services was maniacal at the best of times. It was a long, bruising battle that neither side could lay claim to victory.

And it appears any excuse will do. What possible problems could hiring a new chief create? In fact, a solution is at hand. Port Hope Chief Ron Hoath could provide leadership for a joint force until his retirement. This would be another saving as both municipalities could share his salary costs. He knows many of the players from his past dealing and could provide a nice bridge. Once he retires, a new joint chief could be brought in.

As far as any investigation by the Solicitor General, Port Hope does not need to worry. Most intelligent people can differentiate between the two forces and past problems.

But it is the two mayors who have the most to lose as voters watch this closely.

First, the clandestine meeting between the two councils and police boards does not build confidence and will only engender public outrage later. Thanks to the police associations for opening a public debate.

In the past talks between the two towns has been little more than a social club. Early in their respective terms, the mayors and councillors met over meals to reduce longstanding tensions. It appears neither side can move forward any issue of significance.

But little should be expected of Austin. He was clear two years ago that he was more interested in working on issues related to amalgamation than working deals with Cobourg. But if he truly was so interested in Port Hope’s affairs than he has mislead everyone by continuing to meet with Cobourg. And there is a level of dishonest in doing so.

For Delanty there is much more at stake.

One of his key promises he used during his mayoralty campaign was finding ways to get more co-operation with Port Hope. He bashed former mayors for their inability to work co-operatively and put himself forward as a the man who could get the job done. Other than a long list of public relations exercises and photo opportunities, Delanty has done nothing concrete, so far in this area. It is nice both sides are friendlier, but that doesn’t help taxpayers in a way that truly matters. This could be a major Achilles heel for him come next fall.

The time is right. Taxpayers deserve a break. If both sides go ahead independently it will be 20, maybe 30 years before another opportunity like this will come up. Construct a building somewhere between the two towns. Keep the old stations as community policing offices. Let each town keep its own logo and identity. Whatever. But get on with it.

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