St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge calls for a ‘two-stream’ criminal justice system

city_scope_logo-cmykIt’s a great question. How are police supposed to keep this community safe when the courts continually release or deal lightly with repeat offenders?
Some with dozens of outstanding and fail to comply charges.
A revolving door police are stuck in while attempting to deal with a record number of service calls, many involving social and mental health issues.
All of which tax police resources at a time when there is a hue and cry to defund police.
We presented this to St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge this week – which coincided with the release of the service’s 2020 annual report.
A document which revealed a 10 per cent increase in incidents last year while the overall use of force rates for the service dropped by 33 per cent.
The report notes, “This is a very strong indicator of officer awareness, de-escalation skills along with education and training capabilities of our officers.”
Herridge began the conversation by suggesting, “We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with this issue we are having. It’s been termed catch and release and we have to find a way to protect the victim and how do we look after vulnerable people as well.

“In some cases, the people involved in crime aren’t necessarily vulnerable people either, they are involved in crime with no underlying addictions or mental health issues.”
The problem, stresses Herridge, is no one is being held in custody unless it is a serious offence.
But what about the victim who has had their property broken into or things stolen or mischief is done to their property?
St. Thomas Police Service 2020 Annual Report cover“Which seems to be happening more and more,” notes Herridge.
“Our charges are going up, our incidents are increasing and a lot of it has to do with social issues and the fallout from that.”
Someone living in poverty or dealing with addictions.
“That’s why I don’t believe for the vulnerable person that the criminal justice system is the answer. We may have to go through that system, but incarceration is not the answer.
“We need a rehabilitation stream. We need to figure out how to help people and get them out of the rut they are stuck in.
“Those who are addicted to something, need help because they can’t find a way out on their own. So, we’re sending people through the criminal justice system and back out on the street you go but you have an underlying problem.”
So, what are we doing to solve that underlying problem, stresses Herridge? What is the root cause?
“We’re talking about decriminalizing some drugs. We’re not prosecuting simple possession charges because a person is addicted to a drug.
“I certainly see that side, but what is the solution we have in place?

“It’s just release, release, release. We have people out on dozens of charges and they’re just being released back to the street to repeat the crime over again because there’s really very little consequence.”

“I equate that somewhat to let’s defund the police . . . but we have nothing in place to deal with it if the police don’t respond to these social issues.”
And, it’s the same in the criminal justice system, advises Herridge.
“For those who are committing the serious crimes and do not have an underlying issue, what are we doing so that they’re not committing that crime again?
“It’s just release, release, release. We have people out on dozens of charges and they’re just being released back to the street to repeat the crime over again because there’s really very little consequence.”
The system is just not working, stresses a frustrated Herridge.

“We’re seeing people released without a home address, without a curfew and how do we monitor that behaviour?”

“We need to come up with a better system, a system that’s going to look after the vulnerable person instead of just putting them through the criminal justice system and back out on the street again.
“That’s not solving their issue and we need to help them. Turning them into criminals with no rehabilitation or no help, we’re not doing them or society any favours.
And, for the hardened criminal, adds Herridge, we need to figure a way to deal with them when they commit a serious crime.
“We’re seeing people released without a home address, without a curfew and how do we monitor that behaviour?
“What are we doing to try and turn that person around and make them into a productive member of society?”
Is it really the belief someone confined to time in the Elgin Middlesex Detention Centre will come out a better person? Assuming they survive in a facility where there have been 18 deaths in the past dozen years.
And, what is the toll on police resources?
“If the problems keep increasing, crime keeps going up then police resources need to go up because how do we deal with it? To deal with the vulnerable person and the victim and ensure community safety and well-being.

“A person in crisis is not a bad person. Something has happened to them that led them down this path.”

“I truly don’t believe hiring expensive police officers is the answer to all these problems. We need to take a look at reforming our justice system and take a look at our social and health-related systems.
“This is multi-faceted but a lot of it is falling on police. We need to get to the root cause of these problems because if we don’t, the number of incidents is just going to keep going up, crime is going to keep going up.
“My biggest fear is we’re very fortunate in St. Thomas that we don’t have the violent crime that we’re seeing in other municipalities like London and the bigger centres and I don’t want that happening here in St. Thomas.
“We need to figure a way to deal with this (lower-level crime) so we don’t get to that next level with an increase in violent crime.”
The problem, asserts Herridge, is this is not an overnight fix.
“It’s years in the making but it’s caught up to us in a hurry. We have to have the investment in health care and social services.
“Housing is one step for sure and the city is doing a great job with that. But, we can house everyone we want, but if they still have an addiction issue or a mental health issue, then that is not the end-all to solve this problem.
“It’s like I say, we need two streams in the justice system. One stream for the hardened criminal and one stream for the person who needs help. For that stream, you are not going to jail, you’re going to a rehabilitation centre.
“A person in crisis is not a bad person. Something has happened to them that led them down this path. We don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Today I want to become addicted to drugs. Or, I want to live homeless or in poverty.’
“And, we’re not born in the world like that, either.”
Herridge recounted the story of an individual on the wrong path who did manage to turn things around and now lives a productive life.
“Those are good news stories we need to hear more of. We need to find a way to create those good news stories.”


The rumour mill has been on overdrive of late with speculation a purchaser has come forward for the property that formerly housed the Ford Canada St. Thomas Assembly Plant.
Although the plant closed in 2011, the 622-acre property wasn’t officially put on the market until early 2019. There have been offers in the past but now the name Amazon is being bandied about with the suggestion a massive distribution centre may be in the offing.
FORD PLANTJPGIt’s an attractive location, advised Sean Dyke, CEO of the St. Thomas Economic Development Corporation. He calls it one of the best industrial sites in the province.
“As far as access, pricing and layout of the site itself. It’s in a great spot with access to labour. Everything really hits there.
“I’m not surprised there’s been lots of interest. I’m hopeful there’ll be an announcement soon.”
The purchaser appears to have picked up the 461 acres fronting on Sunset Drive as the back 161 acres facing Wonderland Drive sprouted a green and white CBRE For Sale sign this week.
A CN Rail yard separates the two parcels.
The price tag for the entire package was $26,385,000 as per the CBRE website. CBRE broker Randy Fisher advised in 2019 “Ford’s preference is to sell it as one parcel.”
A portion of the eastern tract of land was pegged for a 38.4-megawatt solar farm in a 2015 proposal by Capstone Infrastructure, however, the $75 million renewable energy project failed to garner provincial approval.
Speaking with Fisher two years ago on conditions placed on the property by Ford he noted, “All I am aware of is no residential use. That is right across their platform.”
Both Dyke and Southwold Mayor Grant Jones are eager to hear an announcement very shortly.


Yesterday (May 28) was the 13th anniversary of the devasting fire that brought badly neglected Alma College to its knees.
Earlier this week, Ivan Zinn passed along his thoughts on the intervening years following his two-year probation sentence after he and a fellow Arthur Voaden Secondary School student were found guilty of arson.
Alma College Zinn2jpgIn part, Zinn writes, “Every year my life keeps getting better and I have God to thank for my blessings. I just wanted anyone who reads my words to know, it was him.
“During the trial in 2008 on the second or third day, I asked God to save me. And I promised him that I will always tell the truth and be honest with you and everyone else if you can get me out of this.
“He answered my prayer.”
Zinn goes on to reference a brick he received back in June of 2017 after his appearance at that year’s reunion of the Alma College International Alumnae Association held in London.
He bravely accepted the invitation from Donna Robertson, past president of the alumnae association, to speak at the luncheon.
In an interview several days after the luncheon Zinn stressed, “It was for closure. Both for the alumnae and myself. I felt a lot of anxiety for the first hour of being there.
“But the whole time I was there I had many ladies come up to me and say how brave I was just for showing up. In a way, I never had any doubts about doing this. It is something I needed to do and wanted to do. I just stuck in there and did it.”
You can read the exclusive 2017 City Scope interview with Ivan Zinn here


Operation Honour instituted in 2015 has uncovered 581 incidents of sexual assault and 221 cases of sexual harassment in the Canadian Armed Forces over the past five years.
In some higher-profile instances, the perpetrator has been named even though the allegations have not been substantiated in court at this time. Putting careers – and rightly so if the allegations are proven – in jeopardy.
And yet here in St. Thomas during the term of this council, a city employee filed a complaint about inappropriate behaviour from a member of council including “brushing their body against the complainant’s back and casually touching a forearm and elbow multiple times, making the employee feel very uncomfortable.”
Something Mark McDonald, the city’s contracted integrity commissioner, determined “has caused emotional stress and violates council’s Code of Conduct.”
McDonald added the complaint did not meet the definition of sexual harassment.
However, it was serious enough to generate a legitimate complaint and was clearly a breach of the city’s Code of Conduct.
So, why wasn’t this member of council identified? And the only punishment was sensitivity training?
Are we in danger of creating the same toxic environment that exists in the Canadian Armed Forces?
Where cover-ups and shrugging off the seriousness of the behaviour is the norm.
After all, this was not the first time for such behaviour at city hall. And remember, earlier this year the province announced it is launching consultations with the municipal sector to strengthen accountability for council members.
To quote the release from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, “The province wants to ensure that councillors and heads of council maintain a safe and respectful workplace and carry out their duties as elected officials in an ethical and responsible manner.”

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No shortage of response to the expansion of activities permitted on Lake Margaret. In response to Sue Margetts’ opposition to fishing and canoeing on the lake, Jeremy Smith offers a reminder.

“Hey Sue. Here to clarify for ya once again.
“The lake was here before the houses. The fishers were here before the houses. The boaters were here before the houses.
“I’ll wave as I catch fish from my canoe this summer!”

Randy Brown suggests the following as a backstory to city ownership.

“It shouldn’t have been allowed, it was pawned onto the city because the owner didn’t want to be liable.”

Norman Toogood insists we don’t need no boat launch areas.

“A launch area for canoes? Come on. You just slip it in the water!”

And this from Timothy Hedden referring to the three councillors opposed to opening up Lake Margaret.

“Kudos to Peters, Tinlin and Kohler. It can be quite difficult taking an unpopular stand. I never understood the fixation with so many accessible areas for water recreation both in St. Thomas and within a 20km radius.”

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And a reminder, I can be heard weekday afternoons as news anchor and reporter on 94.1 myFM in St. Thomas. As always, your comments and input are appreciated.



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