Outside of the urban centers, when you make an emergency call to the Ontario Provincial Police it goes to Smiths Falls, in Eastern Ontario.
But the O.P.P. has announced that is will be closing its East Region communications center over the next year affecting around 100 civilian employees who will potentially be offered transfers. Call taking and dispatch duties for all of Eastern Ontario will move to Orillia in Central Ontario – 330 kilometers away from Smiths Falls and almost 500 kilometers from SD&G.
An O.P.P. spokesman insists that after a “comprehensive review” that “there will be no impact on front-line policing within the communities we serve,” he told the Smiths Falls Record News.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
The people working in Smiths Falls, live in Smiths Falls or commute from the Eastern Ontario area. They know the communities they serve. They are the relaters of critical details to those officers on the ground.
When seconds count, a call taker not only has to take the information but interpret that information. With more on-the-ground knowledge local dispatchers are able to interpret what a person is talking about – a distinct location, an unusual street name or a specific landmark. Something that will be lost on someone hundreds of kilometers away.
Then last but not least, there is the local and regional economy. For a workforce that lived and contributed to the local economy, Smiths Falls Mayor Shawn Pankow is understandably frustrated to see those jobs leave the community, especially for a town that has clawed back from losing Hershey a little over a decade ago during the height of the 2008 recession.
The plan to move emergency police dispatching away from Eastern Ontario is a recipe for fumbled calls, lost seconds and potentially lost lives.
I’m Bill Kingston.