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OPP was short 1,000 frontline officers in 2020, leading to fewer resolved crimes, report finds


The decline in quality of police service has led some municipalities across the province to reconsider their contracts with the OPP — and some to end them completely

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As Ontarians moved out of big cities to work remotely during the pandemic, the number of Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) frontline officers in smaller municipalities was dwindling.

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In her 2021 Annual Report, Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk found that in 2020 there were more than 1,000 constable positions vacant, accounting for more than a quarter of all funded frontline positions. According to the audit, these vacancies led to a decline in the efficiency and effectiveness of the services provided by the OPP. Regions with higher frontline vacancies resolved fewer crimes.

According to the audit, patrol hours provided to municipalities and on provincial highways dropped significantly between 2016 and 2020, from 1.36 million to 975,000. This was despite an increase in reported crimes and calls for service in recent years. The audit found that the OPP has not analyzed the impact this lack of service has had on public safety.

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This decline in quality of police service has led some municipalities across the province to reconsider their contracts with the OPP — and some to end them completely.

In June 2020, the council of the municipality of Leamington voted to end their contract with Essex County OPP because of lack of police presence in the community and failure to provide coverage information.

“There was just an unwillingness to have a conversation about our service level,” said Hilda MacDonald, mayor of Leamington.

This year, Leamington town council voted against two policing proposals from Windsor Police Service and Chatham Kent Police Service and decided to remain under OPP police service, without a contract, for the foreseeable future. MacDonald said they felt the alternative contracts would be too expensive for taxpayers.

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“We want a more heightened police presence and we want to know how many officers we are paying for,” said MacDonald.

In 2018, the town of St. Marys decided to find a policing solution other than the OPP after struggling with lack of visibility in the community, said Al Strathdee, mayor of St. Marys.

“Residents of the town felt that the resources of the OPP were consistently getting stretched,” he said.

St. Marys decided to contract their policing out to the neighbouring city of Stratford. The town was promised the same basic services that the OPP provided as well as a Stratford police cruiser on patrol throughout the town at all times and a dedicated community resource officer.

“Our issue wasn’t with the officers,” said Strathdee. “Our issue was with the service and the resources provided.”

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Since switching to a community police force, Strathdee said they have seen improvements in visibility and community relations. He said because they are now working with a smaller force with less turnover, residents of St. Marys have the opportunity to get to know the officers patrolling their town and form personal relationships.

“The Auditor General’s report was more than welcome by us,” said Rob Stinson, president of the OPP Association.

Stinson said the number of frontline officers has been declining for the past five years. This means officers have had to work overtime and stretch themselves thin to accommodate shortages, he said. During the pandemic, calls for service rose, said Stinson. Mental health and domestic abuse calls were more common, which contributed to the exhaustion of officers.

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The audit outlined specific areas of concern related to the OPP’s policing services, one of these being a rise in officers taking stress-related leave.

Of the 1,028 frontline vacancies, it was found that 122 were unfilled positions, 189 were assigned to non-frontline temporary positions, 377 were on accommodated work arrangements due to injury or illness, and 340 were on long-term leave. While parental leave and sick leave are considered types of long-term leave, the audit found that medical leave due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was contributing significantly to the number of officers on long-term leave.

The audit provided the OPP and Solicitor General with 15 recommendations for improvement, including establishing and monitoring targets for time spent on proactive policing, identifying the required number of policing hours for each municipality, and establishing a minimum acceptable staffing level based on officer workload and stressors.

In emails, both the Office of the Solicitor General and the OPP said they are in the process of hiring new officers to fill vacancies in understaffed regions and conducting an independent review of the OPP’s workplace culture to ensure proper mental health and wellbeing are supported.

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