Future policing costs for correctional complex still concerning

Op-ed

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by Don Sherrit

As the past Chair of the North Grenville Police Services Board, I am writing in follow-up to my original piece (NG Times, November 10, 2021) regarding the policing needs of the proposed Eastern Ontario Correctional Complex (EOCC) and my concerns regarding the resultant property tax increases should this facility be built. I had hoped the November 17, 2021, engagement session held by the Ministry of the Solicitor General (SOLGEN) would address those concerns fully and transparently. From my perspective, that expectation was not met. 

In David Shanahan’s recent article, “Both Sides Now” (November 25, 2021), written in follow-up to the event, he asks “How much can we believe what was said last week by these government people? How binding are their assurances?” For me, the answers to those questions lie in part with how SOLGEN staff dealt with the issue that evening, as well as other documented facts on the matter. 

Aware that the issue is a concern for many North Grenville residents, SOLGEN staff did address it during the introductory presentation, and used the Quinte Detention Centre (QDC) in Greater Napanee as the example. Policing costs associated with provincial correctional services are based on Calls for Service. SOLGEN staff reported that QDC averages “50 to 100 Calls for Service” per year. From my vantage point, SOLGEN staff attempted to minimize the true impact by failing to address the dollar amounts involved and acknowledge that not all “Calls for Service” are billed at the same rate. 

Some additional facts paint a clearer picture. QDC has a capacity of 228 prisoners, very close in size to the 235-bed facility proposed for North Grenville. Its average annual Calls for Service sits at approximately 13% of the municipality’s overall Calls for Service. In 2020, the Calls for Service directly related to policing the QDC cost the municipality $297,000, equating to approximately a 2.5% tax increase year after year. 

On May 6, 2021, Greater Napanee received a letter from the Deputy Solicitor General in which she stated, “I am pleased to share with you that the Ontario Provincial Police will reclassify billable Calls for Service at provincial correctional facilities that did not require police attendance or investigation to non-billable Police Information calls”, adding that the OPP would recalculate the affected annual billing statements for 2019, 2020, and 2021, and provide a credit to its account for OPP policing services. In later correspondence, the Municipal Policing Bureau confirmed the credit adjustment for 2020 was $65,243, leaving the Town of Greater Napanee with a bill of $231,757 for policing the facility.

It is worth repeating that, even after the credit was applied, the Town of Greater Napanee still faced a bill of $231,757 for policing the QDC. 

Mayor Peckford has acknowledged that, if action is not taken, the EOCC could negatively impact the taxpayers of North Grenville. To her credit, she released a statement on November 18, 2021, in which she stated, “The information about a potential rise in policing costs is a cause for concern, and that is why I have already written to the Solicitor General to signal that we have no intention of covering these costs.”

If the Town of Penetanguishene and its Central North Correctional Centre (CNCC) is an example, Mayor Peckford is facing an uphill battle, to say the least. In a letter dated November 5, 2021, the Solicitor General, Sylvia Jones, advised Penetanguishene’s mayor that program funding for policing in correctional institutions was discontinued in 2019. After a very public and sustained lobbying effort by the municipality, the province has agreed to pay the invoices related to the CNCC policing costs for 2020 and 2021. The Minister stated, “Going forward, the Town of Penetanguishene will be responsible for its policing costs”, later adding, “When criminal activity is suspected or alleged, or there are situations that require police involvement, it is ministry policy that the local police service be contacted, and those police services are responsible for dispatching police officers and services accordingly.” 

This example also shows us that historical agreements can be discontinued on the whim of the government of the day; Penetanguishene had been reimbursed by the province for these costs for the past 15 years. 

During their presentation, SOLGEN staff speculated that the proposed Kemptville facility could see less Calls for Service than the Quinte Detention Centre, arguing, in part, that single cell occupancy may result in less tension. That may or may not be the case, but, as with all things to do with the EOCC once it is operational, the facility’s policing needs, and ultimately the cost to taxpayers, will be dictated by forces beyond our control.

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