What would an independent Uxbridge police service look like?

by Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

As the Cosmos noted in a recent article on Durham Region taxation a few issues back, policing takes a healthy hunk of the Region budget, 30 per cent this year. The Township of Uxbridge forwarded $31.6 million in property taxes to the Region in 2022; 30 per cent of that total is $9.48 million. So the Cosmos raised the question: for about $9.5 million, could Uxbridge safely and effectively run its own police service, or could the job even be done for significantly less, and save the taxpayer some important money?

In the same article, it was noted that the small town of Deep River, in the upper Ottawa Valley, has been running its own police service for decades, despite the fact that the town is part of the upper-tier municipality, the County of Renfrew, which, like its counterpart, the Region of Durham, also has a police service; in this case the O.P.P., which all of its member municipalities, apart from Deep River, use.

So what is Deep River’s secret? The Cosmos spoke to its police chief, Dean Duchrow, to investigate the fiscal and logistical advantages, and challenges, of running an independent police service.

To begin, the Deep River police serve a much smaller population and geographical area than Uxbridge: about 4,400 people compared to 22,000, and 50 square kilometres to 420. So one fifth the people and one eighth the land. In 2022, the budget of the Deep River Police Service was $1.44 million, about 15 per cent of what Uxbridge paid for policing this same year. Which municipality is getting the better bang for its buck?

Deep River has maintained an independent police service since its founding in 1957, not surprising, perhaps, for a small town which also has its own hospital, yacht club, even a symphony orchestra!

“It’s definitely a matter of civic pride,” admits Chief Duchrow, who spent many years with the much larger York Region Police. “But it’s also a real advantage for our members to know the faces of most of the people we serve, and for them to know us.”

The Deep River service, considering its size, is remarkably self-sufficient; the need to consult outside agencies, including the O.P.P., is rare. The service consists of the chief and two sergeants, each of whom has a three-constable squad under his command, and an administrative assistant. There are two part-time special constables, who often look after guarding and transporting prisoners, and another part-time constable (retired from a long police career) who will fill in as needed for vacation or illness relief. That’s a total of 10 full-time and three part-time personnel.

“Our members are well-trained for any kind of front-line duty,” says the chief, “from crime or accident investigation to public education.”

The physical requirements of the Deep River service are two patrol cars (valued at about $60,000 apiece), an administrative vehicle, an office with five desks (there are rarely more than three officers on a shift), and one holding cell. The cell’s occupants receive an immediate bail hearing, and if they need to be held in custody, they are transferred to Ottawa.

So if the Deep River police can do their work for less than $1.5 million, be highly respected in their community and largely self-sufficient, what would it cost for Uxbridge, with its larger population and service area, to do as good a job. Three, four times as much? That’s still significantly less than the township is paying now with the Region, and it’s safe to say that the DRPS’s officers are not nearly as visible as a locally-based service would be.

As for where the police would be headquartered, it has been suggested that there is a fairly large, nearly-complete office building right downtown that is probably looking for tenants, and has a large parking lot just across the tracks to accommodate a small fleet of squad cars.

Uxbridge ran its own police for almost two decades prior to the emergence of Durham Region in 1974. Could it do it again? When the possibility of saving significant dollars (in tight-money times) is paired with the probability of having a police service much more in touch with the community, perhaps it’s worthy of debate.

Conrad Boyce, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos