Freezing police budget may take more than a year, says board chair

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Coun. Diane Deans, shown in this photo from 2019, chairs the Ottawa Police Services Board.  (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)
Coun. Diane Deans, shown in this photo from 2019, chairs the Ottawa Police Services Board. (Jean Delisle/CBC - image credit)

The Ottawa Police Service may not be able to freeze its 2022 budget, but the board that oversees the service is hiring a consultant to help reach that goal.

"Last year we heard loud and clear from the public that, to the extent possible, they would like us to reduce the ask in terms of the money we need," Coun. Diane Deans, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, told reporters Monday in advance of the board meeting.

When the current year's budget was approved last December — police received a $13-million increase, most of which went to paying mandated salary increases — Deans vowed to work toward freezing the police budget for 2022. She conceded Monday that it "may take more than one year" but that the board "will make our best efforts to reduce our budget ask."

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told reporters that the service is open to working with a wider array of partners to respond to mental health and addiction crises, as well as reconsider how community safety can be achieved. He said police do not necessarily have to have the "prime role" in responding to these issues.

"It's clear from my standpoint and from my colleagues across the province, police have increasingly been taking on work that can and should be delivered by other partners, always in partnership with police and in an integrated model," said Sloly.

Early in budget process: Deans

The plan for the city's overall 2022 draft budget process will be coming to council's finance and economic development committee on July 6. That roadmap calls for creating a draft budget that, among other things, is based on an increase of three per cent for the police budget, which would translate to an approximate $15-million rise in the police budget.

However, the budget framework is based on parameters that council approved at the start of the term in 2018 and can be changed. Deans said it's "very early on in the work that we need to do" to prepare the draft budget, and that she hopes when the spending blueprint is tabled in November, the board will have "moved a long way from where we are today."

To rethink how police does its job in keeping the community safe, the board is proposing to hire Strategy Corp. consultants to help in three key areas: reduce or freeze next year's budget at 2021 levels; review the police service's use of force policies and develop a strategic planning process.

The first phase of the consultations are expected to cost $68,500, and the board was to vote on hiring the consultants at Monday's meeting.

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