OPSEU Local 217 - Niagara Parks Police fight for survival
 
Niagara Parks Police fight for survival Print E-mail
Thursday, 22 April 2010

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Niagara Parks Police fight for survival

Niagara Parks Police officers, fighting for their jobs and the survival of their force, are expected to pack Thursday's regional council meeting, seeking support to keep their agency in business, a move that could save taxpayers $3 million a year.

The Niagara Parks Police is facing its demise this spring, after 123 years of policing the area controlled by the Niagara Parks Commission, said Stuart Ellis, a St. Catharines lawyer hired by the Niagara Parks Commission to present its case to regional council.

"In essence, I think the future of the (Niagara Parks) police is at stake. If we don't get support from the public, we're done," Ellis said.

The parks commission wants its police department elevated to the status of a stand-alone force, ending two years of uncertainty about the service's future.

If that's not possible, the next-best alternative would be to have it continue under special-constable status, said Niagara Parks Commission general manager John Kernahan.

"Essentially, we will be appearing before the council to ask them to consider the continuation of the Niagara Parks Police in its current or a modified form," said parks commission general manager John Kernahan.

There are 19 sworn officers, six civilians and 30 provincial offences officers in the Niagara Parks Police. If all the off-duty cops, some seasonal officers and civilian staff show up, there could be two dozen in regional council's chamber in Thorold.

Supporters of the parks police circulated a pamphlet inviting other uniformed services like firefighters, NRP officers and even American police to join them to show support.

"I'm aware they're rallying whoever they can," said parks police Insp. Paul Forcier. "I understand there will be a great number of other Niagara Parks Commission employees there as well."

Niagara Parks Police operate under Ontario's special constable status, which allows small agencies to operate in specific areas. Fox example, special constables provide security for the Toronto Transit Commission and GO Transit.

"There are some unique situations that bear recognition. Our situation bears some recognition as being unique," Kernahan said.

The parks police's status expired in 2008, but has been extended on a short-term basis several times as the provincial government considers new rules for the use of special constables.

Provincial officials are concerned about special constables because they don't have the same complaints procedure as regular forces. Special constables are not subject to review by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit, which looks into incidents when people are injured or killed during contact with police.

If the parks police were elevated to a stand-alone status, it would have no problem complying with those accountability requirements, Kernahan said.

But if the parks police were forced to disband, the responsibility for policing would fall to the Niagara Regional Police, and the added cost would be picked up by Niagara taxpayers.

Right now, the $3-million cost of the Niagara Parks Police is paid by the Niagara Parks Commission from its revenue derived mostly from the attractions, restaurants and shops it runs.

Niagara's police services board has to approve that arrangement to allow the parks police to continue to operate in an area for which the Niagara Regional Police are responsible.

With less than two months until the latest extension expires June 13, Niagara's police services board has recommended it stay in place until January.

"Whatever decision is made, no change will be made until Jan. 2," said Fort Erie Mayor Doug Martin, who is acting chairman of the police services board.

clarocque@nfreview.com



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