County council nearly unanimous: it will keep OPPs Mounted Unit

Thanks to a lot of public support, Jasper and Bosco will continue to ride throughout Wellington County.

County council was nearly unanimous on June 24 that it will keep the OPP’s Mounted Unit intact and that Inspector Scott Smith can now start incorporating those costs in his budgeting.

Police Services Board chairman Lynda White told council that the previous day, the board had voted 4-1 to keep the Mounted Unit. In that recorded vote, White, Warden Joanne Ross-Zuj, Linda Austin and Jim Connell had voted in favour, and Russ Spicer had been opposed.

White had asked that her email address be placed in the News articles about the Mounted Unit, and told council, “I did get quite a few responses. Most, 80%,” favoured keeping the horses.

She thanked the Advertiser and particularly all those who contacted her for their efforts.

She presented two recom­mendations: one to keep the unit and the other to begin budget­ing. She said the costs can now go in the five-year plan, and she has received a quote on a horse trailer for $14,000 (the one the OPP had been using was pulled off the road the previous week because of safety issues).

When council debated the issue, councillor Rod Finnie said he has heard the issue is not the cost, but one of staffing.

Inspector Scott Smith had presented all of his concerns to the Police Services Board and recommended dropping the unit and selling the horses.

Among his concerns are:

– the OPP does not have a suitable towing vehicle for the trailer (it currently uses the prisoner transfer van for short trips, but it is undersized for a 5,000 pound load;

– a new trailer is needed;

– at one time there were eight officers trained for the horses, and now there are six. Two riders are school resource officers so riding between September and June requires they be absent from school, plus one is an auxiliary officer, one a community service officers, and the OPP will lose one rider effective immedi­ately, and another within the year;

– there are a number of people in the detachment with equestrian experience, but that is dwindling, and if there is interest from other officers, that will require considerable training that would be costly and have to be paid by the county, plus, the OPP currently gets some training from the Toronto Police Service at no cost, but training new officers will be costly;

– Bosco is now 14-years-old and has had some health issues, and he and Jasper have perhaps three to five years of service left;

– the horses need year-round training to be effective and cannot be used just a few months a year, and require a commitment of at least one member to work with them continually;

– community support is “mixed at best” and many community festivals would prefer officers on bicycles rather than horseback; and

– support within the detachment is weak for the unit as the road strength is the same today as it was in 1999, and calls for service have increased in number and complexity, and members on horseback are not available to assist with those calls, which creates a level of resentment and supervisors must, on many occasions, cancel the Mounted Unit so there are sufficient personnel working in the communities.

Smith’s report and recommendation was defeated at the Police Services Board. He told county council one reason he brought the issue to the board was if the county makes a clear decision, he can then at least begin to plan how to overcome some of the difficulties of continuity and succession.

Councillor Bob Wilson asked if all costs will be documented . . . “so everybody can see what the heck they cost.”

He said he had heard the cost was $10,000 a year, but “I want all costs brought out in the open so all the people will know what these hayburners cost.”

Treasurer Craig Dyer said he can track those costs.

Wilson asked if that includes staff time, but Dyer said all staff time is simply part of the OPP contract for personnel. Wilson said “there were a whole lot of costs buried in staff time. If they’re playing with horses, they’re not doing other work.”

But White replied that would be similar to officers on bicycles, the county boat or even offices on foot patrol. “All the work is there.”

Councillor Walter Trachsel said he is probably the person who helped bring the Mounted Unit to the county, and now the costs can be tracked. He said now the county can give the OPP a mandate for the unit.

Councillor Lou Maieron said the county should make sure the OPP’s contact number is out there so that service clubs can call and request the unit.

He learned the number will be printed on the county page in the Advertiser.

“We need to get the unit known,” he said.

When council voted to keep the unit only Wilson and councillor John Green were opposed.