News Local

South Simcoe Police celebrate 20 years of service

By Miriam King, STAFF

Twenty years ago, the Innisfil Police Service and Bradford West Gwillimbury Police overcame the challenges of merging operations and cultures, to amalgamate as the South Simcoe Police Service.

“The reason for it was basically to save costs. We were two services that were really too small,” to survive in a changing world of policing, noted Bruce Davis in a video interview, or to provide efficient service. Davis went on to become the amalgamated service's first Police Chief.

Before amalgamation, Bradford West Gwillimbury had a total of 22 sworn officers and 9 full-time civilian staff, housed in a century-old building on Holland St., nicknamed “the haunted house.” Innisfil Police employed 31 sworn officers and 11 civilians.

It took nearly a year of work and negotiation, and a close vote in both Town Councils, but on January 1, 1997, the new South Simcoe Police Service launched operations in Innisfil and Bradford West Gwilimbury.

By 2016, the service employed 79 uniformed officers, 43 civilian staff, and 21 auxiliary volunteers, housed in state-of-the-art stations in both North and South Division.

This year, South Simcoe Police celebrated their 20th Anniversary with a dinner at the Georgian Kempenfelt Conference Centre in Innisfil, on October 12, and a look back at the evolution of an effective and efficient municipal police force. Current Police Chief Andrew Fletcher and Deputy Chief Robin McElary-Downer welcomed guests that included serving officers, auxiliaries, Police Service Board members and local politicians, past and present.

Former Chiefs Davis and Rick Beazley were unable to attend, but sent greetings and shared their thoughts in a video highlighting the history of the amalgamated service.

Among the speakers were Police Services Board Chair Rod Hicks, who recognized the high approval rating South Simcoe Police have in their communities.
BWG Mayor Rob Keffer, and Innisfil Deputy Mayor Lynn Dollin also brought greetings from their Councils. “We are very fortunate to have a police service that places such a high value on community initiatives,” noted Mayor Keffer.

There have been ups and downs in the history of the Service. Among the highlights – community outreach programs that have included the Jr. Chief for a Day essay competition,  the Citizens' Police Academy, that opens policing to the public, and efforts to acknowledge diversity in the community.

Among the low points were a contentious OPP costing, and the loss, in 2002, of Sr. Constable Alan Kuzmich, at the age of only 41, killed in the line of duty.

Amalgamation, said Ian Masin, Court Officer and representative of the Police Association, has been“a challenging and difficult process, but also an exciting one.” The Service has faced “growing pains, many challenges and changes” over the past 20 years, but through it all an ongoing commitment to community policing and professionalism has built the modern, efficient, and responsive South Simcoe Police Service.

The service includes a traffic and marine unit, Criminal Investigations Bureau, Emergency Response Unit, K-9 Unit, Scenes of Crime, and new Community Monitoring and Engagement Unit, reliant on modern technology but also on its community strengths and connections.

“Here people on the street will wave to you, kids will wave to you, and you can stop and talk,” said Chief Fletcher, calling the evening “a really great night, and a great opportunity to share.” He gave all credit for the success of the service to his predecessors, and to the men and women of the police force.

“We have a great foundation. Our greatest asset is our people,” he said, quoting Sir Winston Churchill: “The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see” — and announcing a new goal, “to make the next 20 years as great or even better than the past 20 years.”