July 10, 2017 - The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have been responsible for the safety and well-being of Ontario’s citizens for more than one hundred years. Since their creation in 1909, the force has grown to employ over 10,000 employees, serving over 322 communities, and a geographic area of over one million square kilometers (OPPA 2017). With fifty-one detachments in Northern Ontario alone, the OPP are responsible for a large portion of policing for rural and remote communities in Ontario's northern regions. As of 2017, the OPP will face a challenge when over 1,000 of their current 5,300 officers become eligible for retirement (Kirkpatrick 2016, December 15). With approximately 800 uniformed officers serving Northern Ontario, the wave of retirements - expected to begin late this year - will result in one out of every five officers eligible for retirement, or approximately 140 active duty members (OPP 2016). Although the OPP have taken steps to ensure these retirements will not impact service levels, the question becomes, how will the loss of officers and the migration of new OPP members to the north affect police-community relations going forward?
Northern Ontario is unique. It is a region spread across hundreds of thousands of kilometers and represents a culturally, socially and geographically diverse population. Recruitment of individuals from other parts of the province or country to Ontario's northern regions is often a challenge for large companies, as employees may be hesitant to move due to lack of familiarity, distance from family, and culture shock going from a city center to a more remote community (MacEachern 2012). Over the last decade, the OPP has addressed recruitment issues in Northern Ontario by providing incentives for those stationed in ‘remote’ areas. These consist of paid moving expenses and upwards of $30,000 in incentive packages for duration postings. These postings can be anywhere from 2-6 years (depending on location), and require officers to serve in communities that would otherwise be underserved, or unstaffed due to their often remote setting (OPP 2017). Although incentives are a great way to bring officers to Northern Ontario, they also create a cycle of transiency, with those choosing duration postings staying for their allotted time and then transferring to other, more preferred locations (Hawkes 2014, December 30). This transient cycle often discourages community familiarity with local police, and results in constant renegotiation of hard won relationships built between police and citizens.
With the above in mind, new strategies have been implemented to encourage long-term commitment in Northern Ontario. Aligning with the OPP’s commitment to actively recruit individuals from diverse backgrounds, the organization has embraced a hiring trend of ‘North for the North’. North for the North is defined as a push for recruitment campaigns that target people either currently living in, willing to, or wanting to remain in Northern Ontario (2014). By recruiting individuals already living in Ontario's northern regions, the OPP is encouraging not only economic development and sustainability for communities, but positive community relations and an awareness of the needs and wants of Northern citizens (CBC 2016). Hiring from the north is supported by the OPP’s commitment to hire 1 to 1 (for each person leaving, one will replace them) as positions are vacated by those retiring or leaving the force throughout the region on an on-going basis (Hawkes 2014).
Knowing the people and community in which you work is a benefit to any industry, but it is especially important when it comes to essential public services. With the Canadian crime rate steadily dropping over the past two decades, police have increasingly been responsible for providing a broader range of services, including social and mental health services, to address the specific needs of community members (Statistics Canada 2011). Research has proven that familiarity with a person or institution is extremely important to increasing trust between the police and the community, which in turn, decreases the number of emergency situations (Maslov 2015). Recruiting from the north, for the north, is a positive example of how public services can not only encourage community building, and discourage transiency, but also provide individuals with the knowledge and background needed to best service the communities in which they work (CBC 2016, September 8). Familiarity with a community and its people encourages positive police-citizen relations and increases effectiveness of those services beyond the scope of crime and punishment (Greenland and Alam, 2016).
Recruitment from Northern Ontario, as well as increased services for mental health, and social well-being are important to a long-term strategy for dealing with policing throughout Ontario's northern regions. Given the fact that the north is made up of vibrant, and diverse communities, a police force that combines lived experience with outside perspectives would be beneficial to all. The combination of Northern recruits, and ‘non-Northerners,’ or officers from outside of the region equally would be a benefit to a region intent on growth and expansion for both itself, and its citizens (2016).
Policing in Northern Ontario by the OPP is moving to the future at a time when significant change could have led to significant disaster. Practices such as the OPP’s North for the North, increased training and services for mental health, as well as a mixture of perspectives will all benefit Northern Ontario's future aspirations. Hopefully these practices continue after the wave of retirement ends, and allow for positive relationships between communities, citizens and police.
CBCnews Sudbury. (2016, September 8). “Ontario Provincial Police turn to Online Recruiting as Retirement Looms.” CBCnews. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/sudbury/opp-northeast-online-recruiting-1.3749365
Greenland, Jacob and Sarah Alam. (2017, March 29). Police Resources in Canada, 2016. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics and Statistics Canada. http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-002-x/2017001/article/14777-eng.pdf
Hawkes, Vince. (2014, December 30). “OPP Recruitment a top Priority.” CBCMorning North Interview. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/2645336438
Kirkpatrick, Tara. (2016, December 15). “OPP Aims to hire more than 500 Constables in 2017.” The Review. Retrieved from: https://thereview.ca/2016/12/14/opp-aims-to-hire-more-than-500-constables-in-2017/
MacEachern, Barbara. (2012, June 6). “Local OPP Officer gets a taste of Northern Policing.” Retrieve from: https://www.mykawartha.com/community-story/3711846-local-opp-officer-gets-a-taste-of-northern-policing/
Maslov, Anton (2015). “Measuring the Performance of the Police: the Perspective of the Public.” Research Report: 2015-R034. (Public Safety Canada: Ottawa, ON).
Ontario Provincial Police Association. (2017). “OPP Association History.” Retrieved from the Ontario Provincial Police Association website: https://www.oppa.ca/about/our-history.
Ontario Provincial Police. (2017). “Uniform Recruitment.” Retrieved from the Ontario Provincial Police Website: https://www.opp.ca/index.php?id=115&entryid=56b7c5868f94acaf5c28d17d
Ontario Provincial Police. (2016). 2015 Annual Report. Retrieved from Ontario Provincial Police website: https://www.opp.ca/index.php?&lng=en&id=115&entryid=56c22d7d8f94ac006ba009d0
Statistics Canada. (2011). “Neighborhood Characteristics and the Distribution of Crime in Toronto: Additional Analysis on Youth Crime.” Retrieved from: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/85-561-m/2011022/part-partie1-eng.html
Jenna Kirker is a public relations summer placement student at Northern Policy Institute.
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