Lending a hand for 50 years

Terri McCormack
May 01, 2010
By Terri McCormack
The dawn of a new decade conjures up much thought among police services about what the future holds in this rapidly changing world. While this also holds true for the Ontario Provincial Police, the year 2010 also has the force reflecting on another important milestone. With members still catching their breath after the highly successful 100th anniversary celebrations in 2009, the organization is recognizing yet another significant occasion this month – the 50th anniversary of the OPP Auxiliary. The volunteer program has seen its fair share of transformation and growth since its early days. It was originally recognized as the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), a body trained to control crowds and offer first aid in the event of a nuclear attack from Russia during the Cold War era.

The dawn of a new decade conjures up much thought among police services about what the future holds in this rapidly changing world. While this also holds true for the Ontario Provincial Police, the year 2010 also has the force reflecting on another important milestone.

With members still catching their breath after the highly successful 100th anniversary celebrations in 2009, the organization is recognizing yet another significant occasion this month – the 50th anniversary of the OPP Auxiliary.

The volunteer program has seen its fair share of transformation and growth since its early days. It was originally recognized as the Emergency Measures Organization (EMO), a body trained to control crowds and offer first aid in the event of a nuclear attack from Russia during the Cold War era.

The EMO subsequently transferred over to the OPP and became known as the OPP Auxiliary Program on April 1, 1960. Its formation came just a few years before the provincial force entered a new era of rapid growth and modernization, including a new command structure to support what was then 17 police districts.

Perhaps the most significant turning point in the program’s evolution was in the late 1980s and early 90s, when a number of recommendations were implemented following a 1988 audit. One of the biggest changes saw the auxiliary program become self-directed. Then Commissioner Thomas B. O’Grady subsequently appointed Aux/ Chief Supt. Terry Harkins as Executive Director, Provincial Commander of the OPP Auxiliary.

The auxiliary evolved to include ranks, positions and promotional processes that more closely aligned it with the structure of regular OPP officers. Today, with 52 units and more than 850 strong, the OPP has the largest provincial auxiliary police program in the country and is recognized nationally and internationally as a leading example of police volunteers.

Its size is not all that surprising when you consider the 165 OPP detachment and satellite locations spanning Canada’s second largest province, from Moosonee in the north to as far south as Pelee Island.

The program includes an extremely diverse volunteer group which, not unlike the rest of the organization, is largely attributable to the people who serve. Common to this line of work, most members are employed full-time with jobs and careers that virtually cover the gamut of civilian occupations. The various skill sets and backgrounds they bring to the table adds a strong “from all walks of life” element to the organization.

Ask any detachment commander or regular OPP officer and they will not hesitate to tell you that the assistance and support these unpaid volunteer officers provide is an invaluable component to the field operations command structure.

OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino in particular is cognizant of the value auxiliary members bring to the organization. “The first five years of my policing career were spent serving as an auxiliary officer in Toronto. This was a life-changing experience that was pivotal in my decision to become a regular, full-time police officer,” he noted.

“As one of North America’s most diverse police services, the list of duties our auxiliaries carry out is endless. I hold them in the highest regard for the outstanding work they do when they volunteer unpaid time to assist our regular officers in serving communities throughout Ontario,” he added.

The OPP is the only Canadian police agency that requires its auxiliary officers to attend a full-time recruit course conducted near its regular training facility in Orillia. This is followed by ongoing training at the detachments.

The program is actively involved in the OPP’s First Nations (FN) partnerships, providing training to FN police services with their own auxiliaries, including Nishnawbe-Aski, Lac Seul, Oneida, Walpole Island, Georgina Island and Chippewa of the Thames.

The auxiliary program has proven to be an excellent recruiting resource, with approximately 25 per cent of members going on to become regular full-time OPP officers. A careful selection process and attentive eye on their progress gives regular members a prime opportunity to see who might fill future vacancies. Auxiliary members also have the benefit of “trying on” the job to see if they fit into the challenges of police work.

Not all members feel the need to check out the permanent ranks. Many see themselves as simply giving back to the community. Others feel it’s an opportunity to spice up their lives by challenging themselves with new tasks.

Some members contribute skills and talents – those with military training, medical experience or even a pilot’s licence have contributed greatly to special projects. One member with an extensive carpentry background helped repair some damage created by an over exuberant “customer” at a police facility.

Another member is a correctional officer who simply wanted to see law enforcement at the “intake” level, and a paramedic appreciated the cross training challenges which enhances his day to day job.

Once the motivation for auxiliary work is clearly understood by all concerned, there is a balanced relationship which favours both the parent police service and the member. Keeping the task at hand in mind on each shift ensures a reliable back-up is ready and willing to help.

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