To follow up on last week’s item on the pilot project to be undertaken by the St. Thomas Police Service to evaluate body cameras, Chief Chris Herridge indicated the small police force in Kentville, Nova Scotia may prove to be a valuable resource during the evaluation. We contacted Kentville police and exchanged emails with Deputy Chief Marty Smith who was most helpful with his responses to our questions. As to how long the service has employed body cameras he noted, “The Kentville Police Service started with a pilot project in 2015 under retired Chief Mark Mander. “In the beginning, we only had a few members outfitted with Body-Worn Cameras to see if they would be beneficial for our members and the public. In 2018 KPS developed a policy and every patrol member wears a BWC when working.”
In a move “to ensure the city has a police service accountable to those they serve,” the St. Thomas Police Service will soon undertake a pilot project to evaluate the use of body cameras. The decision to proceed with the test was approved Wednesday by the Police Services Board, advised chairman Dave Warden. He continued, “The St. Thomas Police Services Board supports building public trust, community support and enhancing officer safety and public safety.” We caught up with Police Chief Chris Herridge the next day for insight into the partnership with Axon Public Safety Canada, which supplies the service with Tasers. The critical first step, stressed Herridge, is the trial run with a limited number of officers over a yet-to-be-determined period of time.
Video surveillance will soon be keeping a watchful eye over the city’s downtown core. At Tuesday’s (May 19) meeting, members of council will be asked to endorse Phase 1 of a project that will see the installation of eight CCTV cameras along a two-kilometre stretch of Talbot Street, from CASO Crossing to Queen Street. The locations were selected based on 2018/19 crime mapping data and motor vehicle collision reporting information. In a report to council from city police, it is noted the CCTV program “is a proactive, local solution modelled on successful networks in other municipalities to enhance community well-being and assist the St. Thomas Police Service with solving crime.” Right now when a crime is committed downtown, police need to canvass businesses to see if they have surveillance footage as evidence.
Sean Dyke, CEO at St. Thomas Economic Development Corp., admits he is feeling a little handcuffed right now. We all know the feeling as we settle in for the long haul in the battle of wits against the coronavirus. We talked with him earlier in the week and in the intervening days, it seems the COVID-19 playbook has been completely amended. We started the conversation on a positive note in that construction is continuing on the Element 5 plant in the Dennis Drive industrial Park. It was announced last July the Toronto-based firm was to set up shop in St. Thomas to produce solid wood panels made with multiple layers of lumber planks cross-laminated with environmentally friendly adhesives. It will be a $32 million, 125,000 sq. ft. facility with production expected to begin late this year.
As is bandied about across all social media venues, does every individual have the right to demand a COVID-19 test? This week we presented that train of thought to Dr. Joyce Lock, medical officer of health at Southwestern Public Health for her observations. Is an individual with a cough immediately tested for the virus? Not normally. Dr. Lock advises, in simple terms, a test is administered when it is clinically indicated. In other words, the test results will better help the doctor to decide what is the best route of care for that patient. So, in the case of an individual exhibiting mild symptoms, what would be prescribed?
The city’s portion of the cost of providing court security and prisoner transfer (CSPT) has been steadily increasing since it first received money from the province beginning in 2012. That year, the province contributed $75,224. The net budgeted costs to provide the service this year is just over $1 million, with the province providing the city with a grant of $713,000 to offset the expense. That works out to just under 70 per cent of the total cost, down from 74 per cent last year and 83 per cent in 2018. That diminishing financial support was the topic of discussion at a council meeting earlier this month when members unanimously supported a motion to craft a letter to both the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and MPP Jeff Yurek outlining concerns on the mounting court security costs and to seek their assistance in having the province review this matter.
“This is not a luxury hotel. It is an appropriate place for end-of-life care in a cost-effective manner.” Coun. Linda Stevenson’s observation at the Jan. 16 reference committee was typical of the words of support from council members for the Hospice of Elgin, a 10-bed palliative care facility which, when built, would serve the residents of St. Thomas and Elgin county. Trouble is, neither municipality has come forward and put dollars on the table. Even though in September of last year, Deputy Premier Christine Elliott pledged $1.6 million pledge toward construction of the hospice at a yet-to-be-determined location. Plus, the province will provide $840,000 annually toward the operating costs. The annual funding is projected to cover approximately 50 per cent of the hospice operating costs. Late last month, the county played its cards in the form of a letter from Warden Dave Mennill to city council advising municipal officials there resolved “to support the Elgin Hospice Group through non-financial measures but declined to offer financial support.” In a conversation with after this week’s reference committee, he elaborated further. “It won’t be financial support because we are tied to 2023.” That’s when the county’s financial commitment to The Great Expansion at St. Thomas Elgin General Hospital is fulfilled.
The past few days were a good news/bad news rollercoaster ride for the St. Thomas Police Service. On the positive side, the service was the recipient of $870,000 in provincial dollars under the new Community Safety and Policing (CSP) Grant program over the next three years. In total, the province is investing $195 million in the initiative. According to a media release announcing the investment, the police service “is collaborating with several community agencies to better support survivors of human trafficking as they go through the investigative process. “The funding will help provide ongoing training to enhance frontline officers’ knowledge and abilities in supporting survivors, add a new Street Crimes police officer, provide the necessary resources to maintain the position of Technological Crimes Investigator and help develop a social media awareness campaign to encourage the public to be an active police partner on the issue of human trafficking.”
More investment is needed in infrastructure; a number of city assets could be pared; there is a call from the treasurer to address user fees, some of which are too low; and be prepared for several rounds of employee bargaining. That’s the St. Thomas financial picture for the coming year. With a minimum amount of fuss – read little spirited debate – and the complete absence of pencil sharpening, council this week approved a draft of the city’s 2020 budget. Members were content to rubber-stamp the budget which will see a 2.43 per cent increase in the municipal property tax levy next year. That’s dependant on the results of contract bargaining on several fronts at city hall. More on that momentarily.