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Mayor, councilor critical of police representation at council meetings

The police are never around when city council needs them, the mayor and a councillor said Monday.
The police are never around when city council needs them, the mayor and a councillor said Monday.

Mayor Keith Hobbs says he's noticed over the past year the glaring absence at city council meetings of not just the Thunder Bay Police Services chief Bob Herman but even a designate, especially when issues pertaining to police are on the agenda.

Coun. Trevor Giertuga asked the city manager Tim Commisso Monday night why Thunder Bay Police Service never has a representative at city council meetings even though other city services, such as the fire department, have a representative attend every meeting.

Giertuga said Herman or a police service representative are only around during budget time.

"If you can’t be here then you have designates be here. Someone should be here," Giertuga said. "We need to have answers when we’re dealing with answers that are specific."

Commisso said Herman earlier informed him that he couldn't attend Monday night's meeting and added he would relay the comment. 

Giertuga and Hobbs made the comments after a deputation from 17-year-old Cassandra Spence.

Spence wants the city to light a trail system from Castle Green to County Park labeled infamously by nearby residents as the black path. She also wants the city to put cameras up to help curb crime in an area notorious for violence.

Spence came to council with 500 signatures from residents in the area. She said her boyfriend was attacked on the path last summer.

"I am fortunate enough to say that I have not been a victim of violence," Spence said.
Most councillors, like Giertuga, agreed with Spence that the area is dangerous. Giertuga said he won’t let his 14-year-old son near the path.

"I won’t let him bike through there during the day," Giertuga said.

The discussion led to other councillors bringing paths in their neighbourhoods to the city’s attention. Northwood Coun. Mark Bentz said the path from Parkdale to Northwood is heavily wooded similar to the black path and needs lights.

"I don’t know anyone that feels safe going through there at night," Bentz said.

But city community services manager Greg Alexander said lights and cameras alone won’t make paths safer. He said lights could actually put people at greater risk because they think they are safer.

"If you feel safe but you’re not safe you’re actually more at risk," Alexander said, adding that a majority of the city’s 39 kilometres of trails are safe. "Lighting all by itself won’t solve this problem."

Hobbs said he wants to see more effective solutions such as a return to neighbourhood policing to deal with the issue. He said lighting is an option but cameras aren’t the answer for safer paths.

"Lighting yes I totally agree with but I think you’re going to find cameras are prohibitive," Hobbs said.

Council unanimously passed the resolutions on the issue.

One will see a report come before council Feb.9 to consider lighting and cameras for the black path in the 2011 budget. Another report will come back to council in June exploring the safety options for the city’s entire path system.

Police officials said Herman would be available for comment Tuesday morning.

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