Bylaw call volume not 'sustainable,' says department head

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Ottawa bylaw officers are currently facing about 900 calls each per year, a level that simply can't be maintained, department director Roger Chapman said Thursday.     (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa bylaw officers are currently facing about 900 calls each per year, a level that simply can't be maintained, department director Roger Chapman said Thursday. (Francis Ferland/CBC - image credit)

The number of complaints coming into Ottawa's bylaw department is rising so steadily that its director says officers are struggling to do proper investigations and meet their expected response times.

Roger Chapman, the city's director of bylaw and regulatory services, said the increase is tied to the fact both human and pet populations are growing while council is passing new bylaws that need to be enforced.

Last year, there were 13,510 pandemic-related calls for officers to patrol parks, crack down on large gatherings, and enforce the mandatory mask bylaw.

The city was able to redirect officers from tasks like giving parking tickets — as so few people were parking on city streets last year — to do that work.

In many municipalities, an individual bylaw officer deals with between 400 and 600 calls per year, Chapman told the community and protective services committee Thursday.

And while Ottawa officers can likely handle more than that, they're currently facing about 900 calls each — and that's simply too many, Chapman said.

"Nine-hundred service requests per officer is not sustainable," Chapman told councillors Thursday as he presented his department's annual reports for 2019 and 2020.

Councillors call for new hires

Over the past five years, the department's calls for service have increased 32.8 per cent, to 95,445 calls last year, Chapman said.

While that's down slightly from 2019, Chapman said the drop is due to not enforcing on-street parking time limits in residential areas.

In addition to issuing tickets and handling COVID-19 calls, bylaw officers also investigate complaints about property standards, noise, sick or injured animals and more.

Councillors on the committee were sympathetic to the increased call volumes, acknowledging they depend on bylaw officers to quickly respond to issues in their wards.

"Bylaws really aren't worth the paper they're written on unless they're enforced," said Coun. Diane Deans.

Coun. Mathieu Fleury tabled a motion, which received unanimous approval, to ask finance staff to find money in the next municipal budget for new hires to reduce the average number of calls each officer handles.

Overall, the bylaw and regulatory services department has 181 full-time positions. That includes 63 enforcement officers who respond to calls seven days a week, along with other staff who administer such services as pet registrations and taxi licences.

Chapman said the staff count has remained the same since 2018.

Chapman said the department has tried to become more efficient by using data analytics, educating the public to prevent noise-related complaints, and prioritizing more serious calls.

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