Even crime can’t escape the pressures of COVID-19.
The 2021 OPP annual report was presented to Penetanguishene council recently by Southern Georgian Bay detachment commander Insp. Joe Evans.
Evans noted that fatigue had been increasing on OPP officers having to support other areas in the province for roughly six months, pointing out escalations at the international bridges and other protests in major cities required a staffing relocation from the Southern Georgian Bay (SGB) detachment.
“What I’ve done just recently though, due to the fatigue that’s going on with officers, is I’ve denied any further extension to that and I’ve brought all my officers back,” stated Evans, adding that the last officer will return by April.
“That was a necessity because we’ve been running at a steady pace of our minimum manning, approximately eight officers in our area, which gives us our minimum officers per location, and the officers are fatiguing with the calls for service and the amount of pressure and change in the environment of working during this COVID pandemic.”
The lack of regular OPP officers in SGB accounted for several reduced statistics over the past year, including speeding which had decreased from 3,387 charges in 2020 to 3,173 in 2021; a 6.3 percent decrease over the year.
“That would connect directly to the amount of officers that are patrolling and doing radar patrol when we’re out and about,” Evans explained. “So if you’re missing four officers off the front line because they’re out in other areas or we don’t have them because they’ve transferred out, that’s a car that’s not on the road doing radar.”
Regionally, distracted driving charges had gone up 160 percent and seatbelt charges increased by 52 per cent from 2020.
As a matter of transparency, Evans noted that there was a discrepancy in the provided statistics for impaired charges across the region, stating there were just 19 through 2021, down from 103 the previous year.
“I know that’s incorrect,” Evans admitted, adding that staff had tried crunching the numbers several times. “This is just the big OPP machine that spits out the numbers, and it’s been consistent on 19.”
He pointed out that administrative driver’s licence suspensions (ADLS) at 73 in 2021 and 98 in 2020 were a closer, but not exact, metric to follow due to a suspension occurring each time there was an impairment charge.
“That’s why I know that there’s a little bit of a discrepancy there.”
Within Penetanguishene, crimes and crime clearance rates were all down from the previous year, which Evans factored to transfered officers and recidivism through remote court appearances due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Crime clearance rates across the entire SGB detachment for violent crime, property crime, and drugs were also down overall from 2020.
“The courts are starting to kick back up again, so you’ll see that number increase quite a bit for next year,” Evans noted.
Six graduates had been recruited by the SGB OPP, with Evans noting that it would take a few months to get them up and running.
Additionally, auxiliary police officers were given the green light to return to assisting OPP, but not doubling up in cruisers, after being put on hold for a year due to COVID-19 safety protocols.
The marine unit, which Evans described as “the pride of the province,” charged 16 boaters with impaired and made 13 licence suspensions in 2020, as a firm notice that Evans “would much rather see someone get arrested or charged for what they were doing, than having to give someone notification that their family member is not returning.”
As a result of 159 calls for service by the marine unit in 2021, only one impaired charge and one suspension were laid.
According to Evans, marine officers “would be told that: 'No no no, we heard last year that you guys are non-forgiving out here, so we're playing by the rules.' Which is exactly what I wanted in the first place.”
Evans described the three key focus areas he wanted out of his staff: Traffic engagement, community engagement and holding accountable those who had committed crime.
Penetanguishene police services board chair Brian Cummings also provided a 2021 annual report, which included the start of a new rules and procedures manual and a joint proposal by SGB municipalities for a detachment board.
The slide presentations from the Southern Georgian Bay OPP detachment commander and from the Penetanguishene police services board chair can be located on the agenda page of the Town of Penetanguishene website.
Archives of council meetings are located on the Town of Penetanguishene YouTube channel.