Police boards back at table for another round

April 29, 2009

Like a punch-drunk boxer, Port Hope and Cobourg officials are sitting down for another set of discussions on the future of policing in West Northumberland.

Oblivious to the pain this inflicts on the public, the two sides revisit one of the oldest political deliberations in Northumberland history, comparable only to the 25 years of waste management discussions and the endless amalgamation talks that carried on for more than 30 years.

Cobourg CEO Steve Robinson announced last week communications and dispatch service will be at the top of the list as the two sides look at possible efficiencies and cost-savings when talks in May. It is not the first time Port Hope and Cobourg shared costs to save money.

These discussions are nowhere near the topic of amalgamating forces. Both sides are working to complete provincially mandated business plans. Still, the fiscal pressures Cobourg and, in particular, Port Hope face should leave taxpayers scratching their heads.

Port Hope’s hybrid service, shared with the OPP, has worked in the past, but Chief Ron Hoath makes no bones about the advantages of including Cobourg. Quietly, he must be very concerned about how the municipality hopes to deal with the police headquarters, which is under huge strain to house the force. No figures are public, yet. But, it doesn’t take a particularly active imagination to realize this is going to be expensive.

Also, the death of a Port Hope man in one of its cells last year compounds the issue. Currently, the force is using Cobourg’s detention cells. (Oh my, is that a shared service?) That problem is receiving a separate study that will likely reveal additional expenses when it is released in May.

Cobourg just completed major renovations to its building on King Street and is enjoying a calmer public persona after several years of turmoil involving the former chief and a separate discipline hearing for one of its officers.

Talks surrounding a joint communication service have taken place in the past. There have been concerns about reach and reliability, but these were minor compared to the political intractability demonstrated by Port Hope’s political leaders.

However, the fiscal reality may outweigh political will, finally.

With the growing financial demands of keeping its own force, Port Hope politicians may need to bow to the obvious advantage of a combined police service. A new shared centrally-located police headquarters (maybe at County Road 2 and Theatre Road) could house the three forces.

The officers could continue to patrol using town-specific cars to maintain the local identity, but a centralized dispatch, holding cells, court services, crime scene investigation, long-term investigations, undercover operations and so forth could be communal. This means the public would see a unique service, while the operations side of the force would be blended.

County policing died on the table because political leaders recognized the importance of local policing. This is an important value and must not be ignored. However, a West Northumberland force undermine the communities and the number of competing interest can be mitigated sufficiently to allow each municipality to maintain its autonomy; while, at the same time, it gives taxpayers a break.

Port Hope needs to sit down in its corner of the ring and shake off its stupor in order to see it is losing the battle before it falls to the mat at the expense of its residence.

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