Stratford Police reports redistribution in calls for service
By Spencer Seymour, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
At last week’s meeting of the Community Policing Advisory Committee, Deputy Chief of Police Gerry Foster presented the budget reconciliation report for the 2019 year. Per the terms of the agreement between Stratford Police Service (“SPS”) and the Town of St. Marys, an annual review of the full-time staffing costs is to be completed, with variances to be determined and reconciled.
It was determined that St. Marys full-time salary contribution represented 8.7% of the total Stratford Police Service budget. The 2019 full-time salary budget allocation for the SPS was $9,068,420, but the reconciliation determined a year-end surplus of $411,371 overall, and therefore a refund of $35,789 for St. Marys’ 8.7% share.
“This surplus will be placed into our policing reserve, getting us prepared for any future capital costs or future years where we may incur a deficit”, said CAO Brent Kittmer.
Response to COVID-19
In reviewing the month-by-month policing statistics for February, March and April, Foster noted that road stops were dramatically lowered as the pandemic set in.
“One of the things we did early on with the COVID pandemic is direct officers to be thoughtful about the traffic stop interactions that they were engaging in. We didn’t want to unnecessarily expose our members, or the public. We want to be leaders in the social and physical distancing aspect.”
For March and April combined, just 10 speeding tickets were issued in St. Marys as opposed to 129 tickets in March and April of 2019. With less cars on the road, motor vehicles collisions declined for that two-month period from 9 in 2019 to 5 in 2020.
Chief Greg Skinner provided further insight into the police force’s shift towards education and visibility.
“The province was very clear at the outset when they declared their emergency, that they wanted the police to help educate the public on their responsibilities under the Emergency Act before they moved into any enforcement.”
Skinner explained how plain clothes officers, such as those in the Criminal Investigations Division, for example, were put into uniform to reinforce a strong visibility for SPS in the community, particularly in the beginning as public tension and uncertainty were high.
The police chief acknowledged, however, that the force is beginning to shift back towards enforcement of traffic violations due to a noticeable trend in increased speed on the roads.
Shifting gears from traffic offenses, Skinner described to the Committee other noteworthy trends arising out of COVID-19.
“When we look at March and April in 2020 compared to 2019, there’s been a clear redistribution in our calls for service. Mental health calls have gone up by 51%; domestics and family disputes have gone up by 18%; break-and-enters have gone up 150%; mischiefs have gone up 72%; auto thefts have gone up 400%; and thefts from motor vehicles have gone up 340%.”
On the other hand, Skinner noted that violent crime is on the decline. Domestic calls, while up as a percentage, have largely been involving disagreements and arguments as opposed to matters of violence.