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Municipal law enforcement at a “crossroads”

Councillor: Report is a cry for help

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

For nearly a decade, the City of Oshawa has had the same number of law enforcement officers who have stood their ground and kept up with the pressures of a growing city and an increasing number of new policies. But now, they may finally be losing their footing.

The culmination of work that has been ongoing for the past two years, the Municipal Law Enforcement and Licensing Services Department has finished its operational review and it’s clear that it can no longer be business as usual.

“MLE is at a crossroads,” the report reads.

“Increasing pressures has propelled MLE to acknowledge its inability to continue to provide highly effective and timely service.”

Currently, 23 bylaw officers enforce 34 bylaws and respond to approximately 11,300 calls on an annual basis.

And while the population in the city has grown 15 per cent since in the last 10 years, the department is still operating at 2006 staffing levels. A switch to a “generalist” approach in 2009, that has all MLELS officers responsible for enforcing all bylaws as opposed to specific officers responsible for certain areas or bylaws has helped to keep the department effective to a point, the report reads.

“(It) has made the division more nimble and has mitigated some of the impacts from the increased demands. Despite this, the ability of the city to meet its enforcement needs and responsibility is at risk and needs to be assessed in further detail.”

The crisis facing the department is blamed, in part, on the tremendous growth in Oshawa’s population, but also due to internal issues, including the lack of supervision and unclear direction from council.

“Our mandate seems to be changing on an ongoing basis,” says MLELS director Jerry Conlin. “Depending on what are important issues in the community, we’re moving from one priority to the next priority to the next priority.”

Following an initial presenting of the findings in 2015, one-on-one interviews were held with councillors along with correspondence with other municipalities including Barrie, Guelph, Pickering and London, along with Calgary and Winnipeg. While it was discovered that Oshawa is a leader in enforcement models, technologies and administrative penalties, the final report makes 17 recommendations on how to improve the department. Top of the list is getting a clear council endorsed mandate, something the report labelled as a “principle weakness.”

The fact that the report makes no recommendation for the hiring of further staff members drew the concern of Councillor Amy McQuaid-England, who noted council has “overloaded” MLE with policy changes. She says the report is a cry for help.

“I do believe that if we as a committee want to actively enforce the bylaws that we have on the books…then we need to be looking at the staffing complement,” she said.

“What I do know, based on what I’ve heard through staff…there is not enough hours in the day to be able to accomplish the amount of work we’ve put on them.”

An attempt to refer the item to the next meeting for further discussion failed, and the item was eventually received for information with only McQuaid-England opposed. Councillor John Neal was absent from the meeting.

“Staff have not requested anything further at this time,” said Councillor Nancy Diamond, noting that any additional request for staffing would come forward in the budget process.