Apples to averages: Some OPP costing takeaways

(Mayor David Henderson speaks to the OPP contact ad hoc committee last Wednesday.)

The very important story of Brockville General Hospital’s finances rightfully dominated last week’s local news cycles, so it was easy to miss some crucial developments in Brockville’s ongoing Ontario Provincial Police costing process.

So, for the sake of getting you up to speed ahead of an anticipated October costing (not to mention Thursday’s COPS meeting), here are five takeaways from last week’s contact committee meeting.

Apples to averages

Citizens Offering Police Support (COPS), not to mention a number of city councillors, have long argued for the importance of an “apples to apples” comparison.

Don’t hold your breath.

Last week, officials at the OPP’s municipal policing bureau made it clear that any comparison will be less than clear. It’s a simple matter of scale: The OPP must calculate calls for service on a provincial level, whereas Brockville does so on a local level – within the confines of a 10-square-kilometre space, to use Police Chief Scott Fraser’s approximation.

So while it’s relatively easy to call up the number of, say, domestic assaults city police responded to in 2015, the OPP, which measures costs on a provincial level, calculates calls for service using time standards applied to four-year average calls for service, coming up with total weighted hours.

Those averages are not reconciled to the actual time officers spend on those calls.

If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is. Councillors on the contact committee and COPS members in the audience last Wednesday even joked about how tenuous was their grasp of the OPP billing model.

What response times?

For a simpler illustration of the futility of that fruit metaphor, consider this: The city measures response times, whereas the OPP does not.

The reason, again, is the scale. City police cruisers are always within that five-kilometre radius, so figuring out the time it takes to get from points A to B within that limited area can provide some useful data.

Under the OPP, with a jurisdiction covering all of Leeds County, it makes less sense.

Remember the police can only release average response times, in order not to tip off the bad guys. In Brockville, the highest distance driving that average might be from, say, St. Lawrence Park to the north-end retail power centre. In Leeds, that high end could be (again theoretically) the distance from a point west of Gananoque to a point just south of Smiths Falls.

One person’s ‘enhancement’...

We were reminded last Wednesday that a lot may hinge on what special features (dubbed “enhancements” in this process) the city may want and how much they may cost.

The first task may be defining what the OPP considers an “enhancement” and what it considers a core service. For instance, what the Brockville Police Service considers part of community policing might be a bonus on the OPP’s procedural grid, entailing higher costs.

Sections 10 or 31?

It emerged last Wednesday that, under an OPP contract, the city would keep its police services board.

As for how that board’s power would change, well, that, too, is complicated.

He’s not all in for OPP

There’s been a background- noise grumble since the start of this process that Mayor David Henderson, who initiated the OPP costing process four years ago, has been secretly gunning for a change all along.

The suggestion was that Henderson is not only pro-OPP-costing, but pro-OPP.

As he criticized the timing of Thursday’s COPS meeting, Henderson went further than he has in the past to dispel that idea.

Henderson suggested COPS wants to pre-empt the debate because it expects the OPP’s proposal to offer the kind of cost-savings it would not be able to counter.

With yet another contact committee meeting under his belt, Henderson was, for the first time, outright skeptical.

“There’s almost the fear that the (OPP) proposal will be stunningly great,” said the mayor.

“I’m fairly good with numbers and I couldn’t tell you that at this point.”

One thing all sides should appreciate about our mayor is that he knows how to call them as he sees them. That will remain a welcome trait next month.