Policing changes coming to North Huron
BY DENNY SCOTT
North Huron Township Council has decided to take the next step to moving Wingham to a non-contract police service after its required three-year contract with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) expires.
In 2019, council decided to disband the Wingham Police Service and turn to the OPP for policing in the community of Wingham. As part of the move, the municipality had to have contract service for the same number of officers that the Wingham Police Service had (the equivalent of approximately seven officers) for three years, at which point council would be able to decide whether to keep enhanced police services, such as a guaranteed presence in the community, or go to as-needed police services such as those used in Blyth and East Wawanosh.
During council’s July 18 meeting, council directed staff to pursue the non-contract policing option, meaning no enhanced services would be sought, for the Wingham Ward, meaning a consistent level of service across the entire municipality.
Deputy-Reeve Trevor Seip, the chair of the North Huron Police Services Board, said that would mean there would be no area-rating anymore. In an interview with The Citizen, Seip said that would mean everyone paying the same price. Chief Administrative Officer Dwayne Evans reported that Wingham’s OPP costs under the new system, based on 2022 estimated base rates and an estimated cost for calls for service, would be $771,232.17, or $538.95 per each of Wingham’s 1,431 households. Under the 2022 budget, Blyth and East Wawanosh cost $309,538 annually, or $318.78 per each of the 971 households. Without area rating, the cost, based on Evans’ estimates, would be $1,080,770.17 or $449.95 for each of North Huron’s 2,402 households, an increase of nearly $132 per year for Blyth and East Wawanosh residents. The cost for Wingham residents would be less than what they have paid under the contract service they have paid into for the past three years.
Council decided against enhancements to the OPP service in Wingham right now, directing staff to proceed with bringing all three wards to the same system, however some councillors acknowledged that could be changed if necessary.
During council’s July 18 meeting, Jason Younan, Inspector and Detachment Commander for the Huron County OPP, provided a report on the past year for the Wingham Ward to help council make its decision regarding policing.
While Younan and his fellow officers provided a significant amount of information, the high points were that Wingham has a fairly steady crime rate, with between 895 and 901 calls over the last three years, even through COVID-19; Wingham has a violent crime problem and, specifically, a firearm problem according to Younan and, lastly, that there isn’t enough work to have the OPP fulfill their contract requirements of policing in Wingham, resulting in a rebate being sent to North Huron for the overcharted time.
Younan said that most of the crime in Wingham is property crimes, including stolen vehicles for which he said Huron County is “prolific” for. There are nearly four times the number of property crimes when compared to violent crimes, he said, adding that, with a clearance rate, or rate of cases solved, sitting at 22 or 23 per cent, he is happy with the results. In total, over 2021, Wingham saw 405 property crimes, including 130 incidents of theft, 82 incidents of mischief, 63 incidents of break and enter at businesses or residences, 49 incidents of fraud, 27 incidents of shoplifting and 20 stolen vehicles. Younan provided a map showing that the majority of the crimes happen in the central and southern parts of Wingham with significant clusters of crimes on Wingham’s main street.
The same could be said of violent crimes, Younan said, with most taking place on main street. He said most violent crimes happen in situations involving drugs, mental health issues or both. Younan said many of the violent crimes happen between people who are involved in drugs, saying that drugs are often stolen, alongside money and property.
Younan also warned North Huron councillors that firearms are a significant concern in Huron County, especially in Wingham. He said the accessibility and use of firearms, often intertwined with mental health and addiction problems, are prominent in Wingham despite North Huron being responsible for only 3.5 per cent of service calls in the county.
In 2021, Wingham had 132 violent crime calls, including 57 assault calls, 26 threat calls, 19 harassment calls, 12 sexual assaults calls and eight domestic abuse calls.
As far as other calls for service, Younan said there were 118 that didn’t fit under violent or property crimes, including 70 Mental Health Act situations, 29 attempts or threats of suicide, four family disputes and three domestic disputes.
Younan said he commends all the officers that work in Huron County, saying that it is “very violent compared to other counties” and that the officers perform well in the face of that reality.
Palmer was shocked by Younan’s assessment of the violence in the county, saying he wouldn’t have “dreamt that”.
He then asked how residents can react to robberies or home invasions, asking if people can “take care of business” like people do in the United States of America.
“The law says you can protect your person or property,” Younan said, adding that use of force is an option, but, like police officers, people who do that will need to be held accountable.
He went on to say that the police offer services to “harden” homes as targets for robberies or break-and-enter situations. Advice that is often given is to install or redirect motion sensors or cameras and landscape appropriately to provide sight lines.
He also said that residents, especially farmers, are notorious for leaving keys in vehicles, which leads to more crime than just vehicle theft.
“Criminals use those vehicles to commit crimes,” he said. “Do your part and lock your house and lock your vehicle. Don’t provide an opportunity.”
Councillor Kevin Falconer asked if one of the two different systems used in North Huron, the contract system in Wingham for the past three years and the non-contract system in Blyth and East Wawanosh, provided better service.
Younan said there was really no way to compare them, but that regardless of which system was in use, police would respond the same way to 911 calls.
Younan did say, however, that Wingham’s hours are much higher than East Wawanosh and Blyth’s, saying that last year Wingham had approximately 5,000 hours while the rest of North Huron had 3,300, and the year before that, Wingham had just under 5,000 while Blyth and East Wawanosh had 2,300.
“The sheer number of times we come into Wingham costs money,” he said. “It’s not quite double, but there is more activity there.”
After more discussion about what enhanced services look like, which council eventually decided against, Reeve Bernie Bailey said that, while he was initially against the OPP taking over, the finances of the situation convinced him this was the best way. Since the decision was made, he said he has been pleased with the OPP and the service being provided.