Woodstock mayor, police chief outline policing options

by | Sep 27, 2023

Plan in place to expand WPF coverage to all wards, but not the money

Woodstock has a plan for the Woodstock Police Force to provide 24-7 high-level policing coverage to the entire expanded municipality. What they don’t have, say the mayor and police chief, is a way to pay for it. 

On Monday, Sept. 25, Mayor Trina Jones and Chief Gary Forward took the stage at an open house at the AYR Motor Centre to field questions from an audience of between 50 and 60 residents surrounding the town’s future policing options. 

“I hoped more would come out,” said Jones, noting officials hear a lot of complaints about crime and policing in the area. 

While the town has a detailed plan to extend Woodstock’s policing services beyond its current coverage area of Ward 4 — the Woodstock town limits before reform — it needs the New Brunswick government to approve it and provide a means to help pay for it. 

“We’re still waiting for (Public Safety Minister) Kris Austin,” the mayor said. 

Jones and Forward explained that at the province’s request, the Woodstock Police Force developed a comprehensive policing model for the expanded community. With the council’s help, the town delivered the fully priced plan to the Department of Public Safety in May. 

While told that provincial government officials studied the model, Jones said the plan remains on the minister’s desk. She said no one explained the reasons for the minister’s delay. 

The Department of Justice and Public Safety told the River Valley Sun it received Woodstock’s proposal. 

“Staff are now reviewing what was sent to the minister,” said department communication officer Allan Dearing in an email. 

He didn’t explain when it will be approved or why it’s taking so long. 

“The department wants to make sure any proposal provides the municipality with an adequate level of policing services and this applies to all municipalities that have seen their traditional boundaries change,” said Dearing. It’s important that provincial policing standards and the needs of communities are met as policing services evolve across the province.

Jones explained she, the council and the chief opted to host Monday’s open house to keep Woodstock residents updated about policing options. 

She encouraged those in attendance to review the displays on either side of the stage, providing in detail the structure, costs and services the Woodstock Police Force currently uses and how that would change under an expanded model. 

The mayor and chief explained that the extent of coverage would grow significantly, and so would the price tag. 

The Woodstock Police Force currently serves approximately 5,500 people in just under 15 sq km. 

Under the model covering the expanded town, the force’s coverage area dramatically jumps from 15 to 500 sq. km. and the population doubles to almost 11,000. 

The 2023 Woodstock Police Budget of $3.2 million would skyrocket to $7.7 million once the coverage area extends from Ward 4 to include Wards 1, 2, 3, and 5. 

Jones said police staffing levels would almost double. 

Forward explained the proposed model provides 24-7 coverage for 365 days a year. He said each ward would be patrolled 24 hours per day. He explained staffing levels and the vast coverage area of the West District RCMP, now responsible for policing Woodstock rural communities, make 24-7 patrols impossible. 

Asked by an audience member what services the plan could cut to make his policing model affordable, Forward expressed reluctance to cut any vital service. 

He explained the Woodstock Police Force strives to meet or surpass national policing standards, but their plan has no “bells and whistles.” He explained the force doesn’t offer helicopters or ident teams, noting those services are available from law-enforcement partners when required. 

Forward also noted the Woodstock Police Force is already among the technology leaders, but added funding for some of that technology came from sources other than the town budget. 

Forward added the town force enhances its policing and investigative services through partnerships with other police agencies, citing the Integrated Enforcement Unit as an example. 

Through the IEU, he explained, the Woodstock force utilizes officers seconded from the RCMP and the Department of Justice and Public Safety. 

The chief added Woodstock police have a close and effective partnership with the RCMP and JPS to improve police enforcement in the greater region. 

One constant throughout the open house revolved around the prohibitive costs of expanding Woodstock Police Force services to the extended community. 

Jones explained the current tax system could not pay for the service, noting it would drive policing costs to more than 50 per cent of the entire town budget. 

She said council would not burden taxpayers, adding that even if they wanted to, the town cannot raise taxes until 2031. 

If the town force replaced the RCMP in the former local service districts, the town would save the RCMP costs, leaving them $3 million short. 

Jones said the only way to pay for the expanded force is through provincial and federal subsidies or a complete revamping of tax policies to direct more tax dollars to municipalities. 

She noted the federal government subsidizes 30 per cent of RCMP costs. She would like to see it do the same for municipal forces. 

Jones also noted the expansion accompanying municipal reform hit Woodstock harder than any jurisdiction. No other municipal force came near Woodstock’s expanded coverage area, which jumped from 15 to 500 sq. km.  

When asked whether Woodstock discussed expanding the Woodstock force to Hartland and Carleton North, who are studying the establishment of their own municipal, Jones said they held brief discussions. 

Neither Jones nor Forward considered such an expansion feasible at present. 

“The Woodstock Police Force is not ready to take over that area,” Forward said. “That would require a whole new model.” 

Jones agreed.

“We’re going to walk before we run,” she said. 

Bedell resident Simion Watts, who lives just outside the Woodstock Police Force’s coverage area, appreciated the open house. 

“I like the look of the model,” he said. “The big question is funding and logistics.” 

Jones said it’s unlikely any expansion can occur until at least 2026, noting the RCMP requires a one-year notice and the town needs time to implement the changes if and when the models get a green light from the province. 

She said the town “lost tremendous ground,” waiting for provincial approval. 

“We need Minister Austin’s rubber stamp,” she said.

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