We the undersigned believe that this discussion is long overdue.
The overwhelming job of a firefighter entails responding to fire or medical calls. There are other fire safety-related duties but the vast majority of their staff is dedicated to front-line duties.
The exact opposite is true for police. Court security, drugs/gangs/guns, scenes of crime, tactical unit response, jailers, homicide/serious assault investigations, senior abuse unit, fraud unit, to name some, are part of what is expected of a police service.
There are more officers dedicated to all other positions than are available for emergency response. Yet the total number of officers funded by the City of Thunder Bay is not much larger than that funded for the fire service.
As a minimum, there are 35 firefighters on shift 24 hours a day and at times we have been advised it could exceed 40. At the same time, the police may only have a dozen or even fewer officers available to respond to five times the calls for service, depending on how those numbers are calculated.
Officers in this city are burnt out, demoralized and have been off on either medical leave or WSIB at record numbers.
Crime and police staffing are not new issues. We do not speak for the police association but past association representatives were raising these issues long ago.
We continue to be amazed that when people are critical of the level of crime in this city, they do not make the connection between the number of officers on the road and the levels of crime that exist.
If the city wishes to fund fire coverage to the existing level, then we support that. But we would request the city provide the necessary funding to at least have 60 per cent of that number dedicated for police emergency response 24/7.
It is argued that our geography requires eight fire halls yet eight officers sometimes police the same large geographical area. The criminals know that there are hardly any officers to prevent crime; it is unfortunate that so far, the public either does not notice or does not feel it warrants change.
People will say we cannot afford the corresponding tax increase. Let us proceed on that premise for the sake of argument. Then one possible solution is to rededicate resources from one agency to another. Would 28 firefighters be enough in the city with the ability to call out others when necessary? With those savings, we could move funding for those other seven positions to police without costing the city one penny.
That would be a 50-per-cent increase every day and would at least give officers a fighting chance at tackling the increasing gang and crime problems in this city.
If that is not palatable, then make the necessary funding decisions to increase the number of officers on the road.
The standards require that four firefighters need to man a pumper for all calls. We assume that is based on the ability to respond effectively to a fire and for the safety of the firefighter. Why do we not have similar standards for police? It is not uncommon for only two officers to initially respond to a weapons call. All of the undersigned have faced that reality.
It is impossible to calculate how many crimes could have been prevented with a sufficient number of officers on the road. Additional officers would be able to cover more area, to regularly stop and investigate suspicions activity, investigation that may have prevented some of the serious challenges this city now faces. But we know that more people will become victimized because there is a different support system in place for one emergency service than there is for another.
Another committee on crime is not the answer.
When we began our careers, it was not unusual for us to have 20 or more officers on the road for emergency response. When you are being assaulted, two minutes is an eternity but today we can have officers in Current River dispatched to Westfort.
Our careers have ended and thankfully, we got out with few permanent injuries, but this good fortune will not last forever. It is only a matter of time before one of our officers is seriously hurt or killed because of the lack of staffing on the road.
We have been advised that officers have begun to talk about this as being inevitable. When that happens, we would encourage their families to obtain the services of an excellent out-of-town lawyer.
Police officers know the risks when they don the uniform, but those risks should not be compounded by a lack of support from those who should provide it.
People continue to say they support the police. Then perhaps those on city council who have been there the past decade or more, can finally take the steps to show it. It is long past time this serious and dangerous situation be addressed once and for all.
Andy Clark, Jim Mauro, Rob Nickerson, Rob Steudle
retired officers of Thunder Bay Police Service