Most of Saint John police cuts coming from salaries, benefits

·3 min read

The Saint John Police Force is cutting $1.3 million from its annual budget after direction from the city, the majority of which coming from employee salaries and benefits.

The budget approved by the Board of Saint John Police Commissioners shows a five per cent decrease in spending compared to the 2020 operating budget. The total amount of money allotted to the police force by the city for 2021 is about $24 million.

The force is cutting $944,000 from salaries and benefits. It's done this by removing a civilian management position, hiring civilians to replace vacant police jobs, and having multiple retirements.

The force is also sharing human resources and financial services with the city.

Twitter/Uptown Saint John
Twitter/Uptown Saint John

The force is still hiring six police recruits next year, but with retirements and the conversion of police positions to civilian jobs, the number of police officers will remain the same, said Duane Squires, president of the Saint John Police Association, which represents unionized officers.

Squires said the force has hired 10 new recruits since 2011. He said six new cadets in one year is a large increase in recent history, but the number of police officers is still trending downward.

"There were years where we would hire 10 and 12 [officers] a year," he said.

He said the force had 190 officers 20 years ago. This year the city has about 130 officers.

Squires said in the police's collective agreement, there are six or seven positions that can be made into civilians jobs once officers leave them. Hiring a civilians means it's possible to pay that person less or give them fewer benefits, he said.

Creating a budget in the middle of collective bargaining

The Saint John police collective agreement expired about a year ago. Negotiations broke down earlier in 2020 after the union and police commission reached an impasse about wage increases.

In December, the New Brunswick Labour Board ruled in favour of a police commission complaint, and said the union was not negotiating in good faith. It ordered both sides to go back to the table alongside a provincially appointed mediator.

Squires said they had a meeting in mid-December, but the mediator advised them to stop publicly commenting about how the negotiations are going.

"We're looking to come to an agreement eventually," he said.

CBC
CBC

The police union is looking for a 2.9 per cent wage increase a year. So how can the force have a finalized budget if the officers' pay could increase in 2021?

City councillor and member of the police commission Gary Sullivan said the answer is a city-mandated policy that's put a freeze on how much the police force can spend on employee salaries.

"At the end of the day, the salary line can only go up by what is mandated unless there's a business case," he said.

So to create this budget, financial officers didn't have to predict how much salary increase will be negotiated because they knew the salary line can't go over a certain amount.

And if the union is successful in getting a wage increase higher than inflation, that's not going to change how much the salary line will be, because they'll just have to find the difference somewhere else in that budget, "whether that be in personnel or something else that's negotiated within the collective agreement," Sullivan said.