CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall Police Association (CPA) President Sgt. Dave MacLean recently called for more resources and more officers for the Cornwall Police Service (CPS).
“There is tremendous stress on frontline employees,” MacLean said. “We need more people and more resources and equipment to do our job.”
MacLean said that according to research done by the Police Association of Ontario (PAO) Cornwall’s police budget was three per cent below the provincial average. At the same time, according to the PAO, our Crime Severity Index is higher than the provincial average. Cornwall’s Crime Severity Index average is 96 violent crimes per 100,000 population, where the provincial average is 75 violent crimes per 100,000 members of the population.
MacLean pointed to drug related crime as a pressure point for frontline officers.
“What we do know is that as drug crime has a larger impact, it begins to burden the healthcare system even more,” he said.
According to the CPS’ own numbers, there were 92 drug related cases that they dealt with in 2018, that is up from 88 in 2017.
“I’m in no way saying our management has dropped the ball, but our management has to be ready to have some serious conversations,” MacLean said. “We’re trying to ring the bell to say that the wall around some of our municipalities need to be reinforced.”
MacLean went on to say that drug crime was a growing concern for CPA members.
“In my experience and what I have heard from my membership is that the drug situation in Cornwall needs serious attention,” he said.
CPS Chief Danny Aikman said that drug crime was an issue that his service is tackling, but is doing so in partnership with other community organizations.
“The opioid crisis we are facing nationally is in the City of Cornwall,” he said. “We are working with our partners to reduce the impact on the City of Cornwall.”
He pointed out that drug crime can exacerbate other crime in the city, like break-ins.
“I don’t think Cornwall is different than any other city in Canada,” Chief Aikman said.
Aikman explained that CPS works closely with its regional partners, like the OPP to execute drug warrants and get as many illicit drugs off of the street as possible.
Another strain on police resources that MacLean pointed to was mental health, which he explained was a challenge for officers both professionally and personally.
According to the CPS, responses to mental health calls have risen by 155 per cent between 2008 and 2018, with officers spending an average of two hours and 46 minutes per mental health call over the past five years.
Chief Aikman explained some strategies that the CPS has implemented to help his service cope with the rising numbers of mental health calls, including the introduction of the Vulnerable Persons Registry, which helps CPS members connect vulnerable members of the community to local support resources, while also being used as a tool to help them de-escalate potentially volatile situations.
The mental health of the officers themselves is also a concern for MacLean, who feels that increased manpower for CPS would help relieve stress.
“We are pushing people to limits that we have never pushed them to before,” MacLean said. “We don’t want to see more people go off on stress or sick leave.”
CPS would not comment on how many officers have taken stress or sick leave in the past year.
There are currently 88 sworn members of the CPS, and shifts for frontline officers are 12 hours.
Chief Aikman said that there were strategies other than hiring more officers that the service could and has undertaken to reduce the strain on frontline workers.
“I believe that we have appropriate resources to cover the City of Cornwall,” Aikman said. “We do the best we can with the officers we have. That being said we are committed to supporting the health and safety of our officers and to promote wellness.”
Aikman pointed to the Employee Wellness Committee and the CPS’ new employee assistance program which he explained offered a suite of services for officers and their families.
Chief Aikman said however, that the job of a frontline officer has become more taxing on their time. He explained that from domestic violence calls to the administration process of the justice system, all become more time consuming.
“I’m reluctant to say we need to throw more officers at the problem,” the Chief went on to say.
He explained there were initiatives that had been implemented in recent years, such as the Alternative Response Strategy and the introduction of the Collision Centre, which he claimed had reduced the number of calls that officers have had to respond to by about 1,000 each. Aikman continued to say that the CPS would be pursuing other avenues as they become available.
Another strategy that Aikman was open to was discussing the format of the CPS’ deployment schedule, which he said he would be open to discussing with the CPA.
For MacLean, he said that dialogue on the issue of police funding and manpower was what he is hoping for.
“I see this as a way to get the conversation started,” he said. “Maybe we can have townhalls to identify what our police service should be doing.”
The CPS had a budget of $19 million for 2019, an increase of 1.83 per cent from the previous year. Of that $19 million, nearly $18 million goes towards salaries and benefits. The annual salary of a first class constable in the CPS is $97,646.
As a larger picture, according to the City of Cornwall Finances Department, the average Cornwall taxpayer pays $2,484 in taxes, of that amount $605, or roughly 24 per cent, goes towards the police services.
Cornwall City Councillor Glen Grant chairs the Police Services Board, which determines the CPS’ budget.
“Right now, I haven’t been personally approached with any concerns,” he said. “One of the things that I always evaluate anything on is normally you hear the negative items before good works. I haven’t heard anything negative at all. In fact I’ve heard kudos for the new chief.”