A long overdue Ontario Provincial Police detachment building opened in July for the officers who patrol Ontario’s Bruce Peninsula. The new state-of-the-art facility brings their working environs into the new millennium with a single 50 year leap.
The buildings and structures which support officers and staff are an integral part of the policing experience. The new Wiarton-based building plays a strategic policing function in a very unique part of Ontario. The detachment is the main hub station for three satellite detachments (Tobermory, Lion’s Head and Sauble Beach).
Officers patrol a beat which includes three First Nations territories and three extended rural municipalities. The varied population of 16,000 is spread over a rocky peninsula stretching 100 kilometres into Lake Huron, providing some 800 kms. of coastline. Tourists and cottagers swell the population to more than 80,000 people over the summer months. The main road leading north through the middle of the peninsula carries more than 300,000 people and 90,000 vehicles annually to the Tobermory ferry docks.
Officers and residents alike were relieved to finally see a new building after close to half a century of overcrowding. The long wait highlights an embarrassing lack of foresight by previous administrations.
Originally designed to house only nine officers in 1960, the former Wiarton Detachment building ended up with a compliment of almost 40 members shoehorned into 2,000 square feet almost 49 years later.
“There were days we actually envied the prisoners in their cells for both their space and privacy,” claimed one officer. “Just using the washroom at times had to be strategically planned and executed.”
Technology was as sparse as space in the overcrowded detachment, S/Sgt. Brad Fishleigh explained. The street crime unit, drug investigator and property crimes unit shared one computer and one small office, which was also used as the breathalyzer, interview, fingerprint and file storage room! The washrooms doubled as change rooms. The lunch room was also the guard station and the training room and prisoner booking area was in the middle of the administration area.
There was no locker room. Members stacked their hats, in towers reaching to the ceiling, on top of a few metal storage lockers in the main work area. Officers going out on patrol would usually simply grab the closest hat that fit.
Fishleigh reported that the new 11,000 square foot office not only provides ample space for today but has room to grow. “It is equipped with modern technology and all the tools and equipment that our officers and staff need to provide the service our communities have come to expect and deserve,” he proudly stated.
“We are truly blessed in many ways,” he added. “Not only do we have this wonderful building to showcase, we have a new 24 foot boat to provide marine patrols on the waterways of the peninsula. We have two new all-terrain vehicles that have been used extensively at Sauble Beach for both trail patrols and search and rescue operations. We also have two new snow machines which perform the same tasks during the winter months.”
Fishleigh points out the additional space has afforded the opportunity to create a new 10-member auxiliary unit to assist regular members. Such initiatives were severely hampered in the past, when there was no proper room to train the officers. The new facility not only has a specific office for the auxiliary personnel but ample training rooms where they can develop their skills.
Another advantage is the opportunity to share space with other community partners and programs. The new station boasts a fully equipped community room next to the front foyer, complete with a large modular board room table and chairs, audio/video equipment and visual display boards. It can be used as a special projects room, by local emergency services and can also be booked for local community and social club meetings.
Providing office space for probation and parole officers, victim services and (temporarily) to the local Children’s Aid Society while it waits for its new building to be completed is another opportunity to help the community.
“Having the versatility to supply temporary space for local social services is important to not only the police but the community we serve in a larger sense,” Fishleigh explains.
For the first time detachment members can maintain their own health in an exercise room, fully equipped through member and corporate donations. It is specifically equipped and designed to encourage maximum use by all members, regardless of their workout preferences.
For many years the detachment lacked a place to take victims of crime and youth in distress. Officers can now provide a new “soft interview room” with a calm and more relaxed atmosphere which encourages interaction between police and victims. The regular interview room, on the opposite side of the building, is designed for proper investigative interrogations. It provides for the protection of an individual’s rights and clear and accurate evidence for the prosecution and defence alike.
The same attention to detail has been incorporated into the design and processes involved in the property and evidence rooms. Space has been allocated for general property seized as evidence and secure areas for scene of crime officers. All areas were designed to ensure maximum attention to proper exhibit storage and continuity of evidence.
Cells are designed to ensure those incarcerated remain safe and the area is kept clean. Full video surveillance and state of the art digital logging of videos are centralized in the secure computer and data room. The prisoner being processed is closely monitored from the time the transport enters the secure garage until they leave the premises.
Citizens are increasingly being fingerprinted at police facilities for non-custodial needs – social agency background checks, for example, or parents wanting to have their children’s prints in case of emergencies. This used to mean going to the finger printing area within the secure lock up section, but the new facility has a print station in a hallway closet area near the entrance.
A clean and well planned station is vitally important to policing today. With ever increasing demands on officers to fill the gaps of social shortfalls, it is crucial that police facilities are more than simply a warehouse to store stuff and people.
Buildings (and officers) must be ready and remarkably versatile. The OPP Bruce Peninsula detachment has happily arrived and is well placed to lead the way.