The new commander of the Napanee OPP detachment is anything but a new face.
Of the 30 years he’s spent with the force, Insp. Scott Semple has served all but three of his years in Lennox and Addington County — the bulk with the detachment and five years with the OPP’s Tactics and Rescue Unit, housed in Odessa. He also spent the bulk of his in the county.
Returning after a 19-month stint as the detachment commander of the neighbouring Centre Hastings detachment, Semple is pleased to be back as a leader within his home community. He says he has eight or nine years until his retirement from active policing and he’d be happy to spent the duration in his current post.
“Now, I’m back in very familiar territory,” he said. “I consider myself an L&A County guy. I grew up in Amherstview and lived in four of the five municipalities we police. I’m very familiar with all the municipalities and I’m excited to be back.”
Semple describes policing as a lifelong dream of his. He said he was often around police officers in his youth as they were friends of his family. It hasn’t been a lifelong career for him, however. The first time he applied for the OPP, he actually wasn’t accepted, so he took a different course and gained some valuable life experience.
“Back then, I was probably too young and inexperienced. I went into the stream of the grocery business, that was what my family was involved in,” he recalled. “Working in that field, my father and I bought our own supermarket in Belleville. It became a family operation. My mother and my wife also worked in the business.”
The fire inside to be a police offer never fully extinguished, however. Semple sold his business and reapplied for the force. At the age of 31, he was hired. In hindsight, that detour was been a positive in his development as an administrator.
“I came on a little more mature. I had some business background with me and I think that paid dividends in the long run. I had that private sector experience working with a community and managing resources,” he said. “I carried that with me and still do to this day. I feel that policing is a service that is funded by the public and provides service to the public, but I’m always mindful it has to be valuable and run efficiently. It can’t be wasteful… I still feel the people we serve are our customers and they deserve to get value for the money they pay for that service.”
Semple said a big way he can help provide that value is to be directly engaged in his community. He’s lived everywhere he’s worked — including a recent move to the Madoc area — and he believes in attending local events and meeting people even when he’s off the clock.
“People respect that when you’re one of them.”
While he was posted in Napanee as a staff sergeant and operations manager, he also had the fortune of working closely with his predecessor, Insp. Pat Finnegan, who was on the cutting edge of developing a different kind of police work that focuses on community engagement and co-operation with service agencies. Semple said he and Finnegan grew together in that environment and he learned from Finnegan’s leadership. The collaboration is something he strongly believes in.
“We’re collaborating with partners and looking at the root causes of crime and social disorder. Some of it needs to be led by police, but a lot of it shouldn’t be. We have better suited people in mental health, social services and some of the other social agencies that can own some of that work and help better than the police,” Semple explained.
He said often police becomes a catch-all for people ho don’t know where else to turn with issues. If the OPP is able to work collectively with others to identify systemic gaps and it can connect the community with the proper services upstream before a crisis occurs, that can free up costly services like the police, EMS services, or hospitals.
“We’re trying to become a more horizontal partner, rather than a vertical one. Rather than quarterbacking and leading everything, we want to become a partner,” Semple said, adding he plans to continue work at the Lennox and Addington situation table — a collective Finnegan co-chairs with police and social service agencies — and is also looking at developing community safety plans for local municipalities that take into account the partners available.
Something Semple said he’s always been able to do is look at creative solutions to find efficiencies in police work. He said he’ll continue that in Napanee, where he’ll oversee 100-plus uniformed officers spread across sites in Napanee, Odessa and Kaladar. They are responsible for municipal policing and provincial duties, including 80 km of Hwy 401 and the Quinte Detention Centre. He stressed he isn’t going to make change needlessly.
“I’ve got some vision for where I want the want the detachment to go structurally internally and externally. Right now, it’s trying not to rush things and get a good understanding of what people here in the detachment see as necessary change. I’m coming back looking at things a little differently,” he said. “We don’t want to make emotional change, we want to make evidence-based decisional change. I’ll listen to what people have to say and what our community has to say.”
In the end though, rather than the status quo, he’s looking for a better, more efficient brand of policing.
After a busy first month on the job, Semple said traffic has become a priority, particularly in light of a recent wave of accidents on Hwy 401 that have impacted travel in the Napanee area.
“This community definitely benefits from having a provincial highway like 401 run through it, but when it doesn’t work because something happened out there it can have a huge effect on our community,” Semple said. “We’re going to feel it when the highway shuts down, but we’ll work at it so it doesn’t feel like a burden.”
Semple said he’s hoping the increase in accidents are a “blip in the radar,” possibly influenced by increasing travel and the start of construction season. He said the police will be doing their part to enforce distracted driving law and safe driving habits, but said sometimes collisions do happen. The trick is mitigating the severity of them.
“These are accidents, nobody plans them. Based on the volume of traffic on that highway, things do happen,” he said.
Semple said he’s been meeting with the Ministry of Transportation to strategize on how to make the highway and detour routes safer and less of an inconvenience for the people in his community.
“I would have been doing this work anyway, but it has certainly escalated on my priority list because of what has happened in the last couple weeks. It’s something I understand, I’ve worked on the highway as a constable and a supervisor at different levels. I’ve stood on the side of the highway and seen the behaviour of drivers out there. It’s something we have to take seriously.”