Conference call did not inspire confidence


Technically, the Ontario Provincial Police is not supposed to be in the business of winning over the hearts and minds of Brockvillians.

As OPP officials have stated, repeatedly, throughout this costing process, they are here to present the facts: an objective proposal that captures the true cost of policing this city.

But politics infiltrates everything, and it would be naive not to think the OPP, like any government body, has a natural internal momentum toward expansion. They would, fundamentally, prefer to police Brockville, as opposed to not policing it, if given the chance.

If anyone at the OPP is therefore concerned about how the provincial force is perceived among Brockvillians, he or she is probably inclined to look at yesterday's contact committee meeting as a PR flop.

The commentsphere (which is, let's remember, populated in large part by supporters of the municipal police) is now making a deal of the fact the OPP was only present at last night's meeting via teleconference.

Sgt. Michael Milner, an analyst with the provincial force's municipal policing bureau, was the only OPP official participating in the meeting, doing so from a long distance.

Members of the pro-city-force group Citizens Offering Police Support (COPS) objected not only to this, but also the way the main council chamber was configured to accommodate the conference call.

The room was arranged, as they saw it, in concentric circles, with the teleconference speaker at the centre, the contact committee around that, and everyone else – city police brass, the press and the public – forming the outer circle.

This was probably an accident of convenience. And to be honest, we are at a stage in this costing process where people are still collecting information, rather than divulging it.

The more disturbing impression this configuration encouraged, if you favour giving the OPP a fair shake, was the notion that OPP policing might sometimes be a teleconference kind of thing.

The OPP is, after all, the provincial police force. Its top brass are elsewhere in the province, and, unlike the current city police force, the commanders of a Brockville OPP detachment would sometimes have to consult with higher brass in Smiths Falls or even Orillia.

Monday's meeting obviously left some audience members with the impression that, were there a crisis in Brockville, the OPP might manage it by teleconference.

That would be an unfair impression, of course. But like I said, politics has a way of infiltrating everything.

If their aim is to keep things focused on the numbers, the OPP would be wise to be here to present the facts.