Stratford councillors worried about lengthy police response times in town

·3 min read

STRATFORD – Coun. Darren MacDougall is worried the RCMP aren't responding fast enough to emergency calls in Stratford.

But it's not necessarily an issue with the RCMP or its police officers' services – it's an issue with the level of policing the town is paying for, he said.

"The reality is that, at any given time, there could not be a member working in Stratford."

MacDougall shared his concerns during a recent Stratford council meeting at the town centre. A similar concern was illustrated in the policing section of the town's recent resident survey, and MacDougall said he has heard directly from several residents about their experiences.

In two instances, Stratford residents waited 30-40 minutes before a police officer arrived at the scene. One resident was reporting a car accident and the other was reporting a break-in at their house, MacDougall said.

"Both of these people were mortified," he said. "The safety of our residents should be the priority of our town."

Currently, Stratford's contract with the Queens District RCMP has six officers tasked to patrol the town as well as one clerk at the town's Emergency Services Facility. The last time Stratford saw a change was in 2009, when it increased from five to six officers, said Wendy Watts, the town's engagement officer.

Because there's a chance those officers could be anywhere across Queens County at the time of a call, and with Stratford's rising population of about 11,000 people – up from about 9,700 in 2016 – MacDougall said he believes council needs to reassess its policing model, which would likely entail paying more for increased service.

"(Residents) want the comfort of knowing that the police will respond in a timely manner," he said.

Coun. Derek Smith, chairman of the town's safety services committee, said he would bring the concern to Stratford's RCMP representatives and that more conversations should be had to determine whether there's anything that can be done.

"But you're right to ask these questions," he said.

Coun. Steve Gallant echoed MacDougall's concerns, arguing the town should have access to more information on how much policing it is receiving regularly as part of the monthly RCMP reports so to ensure residents' safety.

"The RCMP work for the Town of Stratford. We hire them. We want to know."

He questioned whether Stratford had a police officer on patrol in its town limits 24-7 and whether an officer was patrolling the town at that moment. Smith couldn't answer either question.

"We don't know that. That's disappointing," Gallant said, knocking his desk. "This is why we need a different model."

Smith did note that he's seen an increase in policing across Stratford since the RCMP started operating out of the town's emergency facility this year.

"But that's an observation. What we're looking for is cold, hard facts," he said.

Daniel Brown, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian