After years and years of listening to the woes of small agency police chiefs on this amalgamation issue it is clear there is one, and only one factor, that can help them head this off. They must understand that getting cheaper policing is not the concern of those wanting change but rather the constant bargaining and unpredictability of labour relations issues which are killing them.
Recent news of the takeover by the Ontario Provincial Police of the Midland Police Service has underscored a basic flaw in understanding the motives for this type of happening. Municipal police services across the country must take note of this and understand that the smaller police agencies are simply doomed to being taken over by much larger agencies … unless they take a look at what motivates such changes and correct the issues.
It should not be difficult to put yourself into the shoes of a recently elected municipal councillor who has been tasked with the portfolio of the local police commission. Here we have a person who one day was a local merchant, housekeeper, or other normal citizen and the next day thrust into the responsibility of guiding the management of a local police service. Feeling they may be way over their heads they simply watch, listen and approve the recommendations of the chief. Then one day they are thrust into a labour negotiation with the local police association. If they felt they were over their heads with just being on the police commission they now feel like they are at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Double this with the thought of beginning negotiations with a cop with some ten to twenty years experience at the game and you begin to get the picture.
So on the face of it the local politicians begin by saying they just want to do some comparison shopping. The presentation brought to them includes a well practiced and polished process which works hard at comparing apples to apples. The civilian counsellor is told the costs will be about the same but most likely slightly cheaper in the short term. They are told the amalgamation is simply a matter of the local cops switching patches. The counsellors will have access to figures, growth pattern charts and a financial breakdown of how it just makes good sense to switch.
At the back of the counsellor’s mind, however, is the simple thought that the town will be plugged into a larger organization with a set formula for payments which can be more clearly projected into the future. Most of all there will never be a need for the town to enter into any more negotiations with local cops, who know where they live, and thrust into binding arbitration if one side or the other are dissatisfied.
In effect the local counsel would be very happy plugging into police services much the same as they get their hydro. Just pay the bloody bill as it comes in and turn on the switch when it is required. No more worrying about labour relations, pay and benefits, disciplinary appeals and risking the negativity that may develop if the local cops or citizenry aren’t happy with outcomes.
So who is doing the correct thing here? You may call it lazy leadership for politicians to think in this fashion but they are very busy people working on a myriad of other issues in their daily lives. Most are not full time counsellors and must balance their work life with the towns business along with answering the concerns of their constituents. Removing a thorny issue from their plate is not only agreeable but I am sure it would make them giddy with joy.
If there are still any municipalities or local cops wishing to retain their local police service then they must consider what I have pointed out. It would certainly mean removing this obstacle from the local counsellors by having all remaining municipalities negotiate a common purpose labour settlement with all other municipal police. It might be as simple as negotiating a group contract which sees parity with the provincial force. If you get into regional disparities for income and working conditions this too can be done on a comparative basis with the local provincial policing service and negotiated through the aforementioned common purpose negotiation team.
Police associations nationwide should take careful notice of this and realize they could be negotiating themselves out of business.