AMHERST, N.S. – Amherst is sticking with its municipal police force.
Town council voted Monday night to step away from requesting a proposal from the RCMP following receipt of a pair of reports it commissioned last May. Instead of moving toward eliminating its municipal police force, council directed staff with both the town and the police department to work together on an expanded internally-focused review to seek increased efficiencies within the department while also investigating potential areas for expanded services.
“I personally always supported continuing with a local Amherst police department because it does so much for the community that helps prevent crime and keeping youth on the straight narrow,” Amherst Mayor David Kogon said Tuesday. “However, when you’re spending the amount of money we are on policing we had to look at other options. I was hoping all along it would turn out the way it did. The cost of policing is a problem and we have to deal with it, but disbanding the Amherst Police Department is no longer an option.”
The police budget is approximately $4.2 million, which represents approximately 22 per cent of the town’s $17-million budget.
The mayor said one of the concerns he had with looking at the RCMP is what the level of service would be compared to a municipal force. He said with the rising costs of the RCMP and things like response times, he can see other municipal units looking at their own police force.
“If you were to talk to the people of Springhill I’m sure they’d tell you they’re not happy with the response times compared to what they used to get,” Kogon said. “I’ve also spoken to a mayor in Moncton who told me they really didn’t save anything by shifting from the city police to the RCMP.”
With Oxford and the Municipality of Cumberland also doing their own review of the service provided by the RCMP, Kogon said he’d like to see Amherst’s police department serving a wider population.
Kogon said one of council’s top priorities has been to conduct an in-depth study on the cost of policing in Amherst. By doing these studies and making its decision the mayor said council has done its due diligence and will continue to do its due diligence on one of the town’s major cost drivers.
Acting chief Dwayne Pike said the membership will be relieved with council’s decision.
“It’s a big relief for our members,” acting police chief Dwayne Pike said following the meeting. “Obviously when reviews such as this are taking place there’s always concern. We work hard to make things work and looking for efficiencies is an ongoing process.”
The acting chief said the process also has buy-in from staff which are working hard to find efficiencies within the department. He said everyone within the department is committed to working together for change.
The reports looked a policing cost drivers both nationally and locally and summarized the services presently offered by the police department. The reports looked ahead 10 years at the costs associated with policing and estimated costs would increase by 21 per cent over that period, resulting in policing costing approximately $850,000 more per year in 10 years than it does today.
In recommending not to consider the RCMP option, the report said there were uncertainties around the cost of the RCMP as its staff is moving forward with unionization, the potential impacts to service by moving from a municipal force to RCMP is not fully understood and there has been at least one case where a municipality decided to end its contract with the RCMP and create its own police department.
The report also noted correspondence from the public safety and emergency preparedness minister that indicated the RCMP is unable to respond to requests to provide municipal policing at this time.
CAO Greg Herrett said the report allowed the town to look at policing from both a micro and macro level.
“Going forward, having town and police department staffs working together will allow us to find efficiencies that could result in budget savings, place the focus on internal rather than external solutions and ensure continuous improvement as well as an opportunity for a deeper level of review on what we deliver and how best to deliver it,” Herrett said in the release. “This, in turn, will provide a process to engage and educate the community should the services provided or service levels change.
“We have developed a very much improved relationship with the Atlantic Police Association Local 104 in recent years and we look forward to working with them as our partners to ensure the sustainability of municipal policing in Amherst.”
Police union president Const. Tom Wood said officers are looking forward to working with the town to address inefficiencies and improve overall service delivery. The local, he said, is committed to working towards a sustainable policing model for Amherst.