Grey County OPP Detachment Commander Inspector Martin Murray made his quarterly visit to Meaford's council chamber on Monday, July 23, to update council on policing activities in the municipality.
Inspector Murray's data for the second quarter of the year showed that Meaford continues to be a low-crime community, however he noted that some of the data could point to new trends that need to be monitored.
For example, incidents of assault causing bodily harm have increased from six in the first half of 2017 to 22 in the first six months of this year. Inspector Murray told council that a single incident involving a number of people in a fight, for example, could account for such an increase, or it could be a sign of a trend that needs to be addressed, and he and his team monitor the data as part of their routine.
Other areas that have seen increased incidents in the first half of 2018 include uttering threats, domestic incidents, and theft under $5,000.
“I want no one to go away with the impression that things are rampant here, because they are not. These are upticks that need attention,” Murray told council.
In recent months some residents have questioned whether Meaford is being adequately policed, with some suggesting that the municipality isn't being policed at all due to not having a contract with the OPP. Councillor Tony Bell asked about the public perception, and if the drop in some types of charges could be an indication that there is less policing of the community taking place.
“Inspector, I find that there is a lack of presence of officers in our community,” Bell said. “And when I look at traffic-related charges, I see speeding down, seatbelt down, impaired down, distracted down. That math tells me that if an officer is not there, you can't make a charge.”
Bell also noted a reduction in foot patrol hours, and he asked Inspector Murray if the data doesn't suggested that Meaford is being policed less than it has been in the past.
“If you don't see them (officers), it doesn't mean they aren't there,” Murray told council. “There are ebbs and flows. With a sharp increase in domestics for example, that's a two-officer call, and can be somewhere north of eight hours.”
The inspector also noted that the number of charges involving motorists can be misleading, and he and his team are working on developing data for a metric that he feels is more valuable – officer and motorist interactions.
“I can't, and will not ever mandate traffic tickets, and I don't think that traffic tickets are a reflection of traffic enforcement. It's traffic interactions that count. Times that people get stopped but don't get a ticket. Grey County at the moment is trending at the highest amount of traffic stops per member (in the province),” the inspector told council.
Councillor Steve Bartley asked how the public can provide input to the police.
“A community voice is paramount to public safety,” Inspector Murray told council. “We can't do this alone, and shouldn't do this alone.”
Inspector Murray told council that the public is welcome to contact the OPP, including himself at any time.
Bartley noted that as a result of opting out of a contract with the OPP in 2013, Meaford doesn't have a police services board, and he asked how Meaford residents can have an adequate voice in the absence of such a board. Bartley suggested that a group of residents and stakeholders could be formed for that purpose.
“Absolutely, I'm a big fan of that,” the Inspector told council. “The Police Service Act has a provision when there is no contract to look for a community advisory board. It could be structured in any way that the community wants, it's the community voice that is key. If community members put the effort into putting something together, then I will guarantee that they will have my time.”
Councillor Bartley suggested that Meaford should work toward forming such a community advisory group as a liaison between the community and the police.