Ottawa police board approves smaller-than-requested budget increase

·3 min read
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly takes part in a panel in November 2019. He said the board's budget for the service would be 'incredibly difficult to implement.' (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly takes part in a panel in November 2019. He said the board's budget for the service would be 'incredibly difficult to implement.' (Fred Chartrand/The Canadian Press - image credit)

In what a board member called a "historic" decision, the Ottawa Police Services Board has unanimously approved a 2022 police budget that limits an increase to two per cent — deciding not to cut the police budget, but to cut into the police request.

The Ottawa Police Service had proposed a draft budget that asked for a 2.86 per cent increase. The budget called for an additional $14 million in 2022 for a total operating budget of $346.5 million, as well as $23 million for capital costs.

The budget request came after more than a year of repeated calls by community groups to defund or freeze the police budget.

After hours of public delegations at its Monday meeting and two public demonstrations on city streets demanding a budget freeze, the board reconvened on Tuesday afternoon.

Coun. Rawlson King introduced a motion to approve a two per cent tax increase by way of a $2.65 million reduction in the proposed budget, mainly coming from cost savings. Police would receive $11 million in new money.

"We all know that reimagining public safety requires seeking [balance]," King told the meeting.

"The motion I'm introducing seeks a delicate balance to ensure the maintenance of adequate and effective policing in our city while seeking the savings we committed to finding to the public."

He said this would lead to historic changes in how the city approaches community safety.

Jean Delisle/CBC
Jean Delisle/CBC

The board spent a year looking at ways to reduce or freeze the budget after last year's budget process.

"I think what we heard is very clear. Community expectations are for changes that seek efficiencies," King said.

'Aggressive' savings will be 'incredibly difficult': chief

Ottawa police Chief Peter Sloly told the board the force "will do everything we can to make sure not a single member of the Ottawa Police Service loses their job as a result of anything."

OPS had previously estimated that a 1.5 per cent tax increase would lead to the loss of anywhere from 60 to 70 police officers. Salaries and compensation account for more than 80 per cent of the police budget.

Sloly told the board that the effect of such an "aggressive" level of in-year savings would be compounding in the years to come. He worried it could send the service into a years-long tailspin like a hiring freeze did more than a decade ago.

"This will be incredibly difficult to implement," Sloly said, adding that the budget the force sought for approval already contained a significant amount of risk.

He also urged the board to coordinate a plan for an alternative response model with the city, so that this isn't just a financial pressure on police with no real change.

"[That would mean] that when that call comes in and it doesn't go to the Ottawa Police Service or … it gets diverted to some other service, that service will respond effectively, appropriately, differently and ideally better," he said.

"This has been a responsibility unfairly placed on policing for decades. This is an opportunity to significantly reverse that and advance it to a better place, but only if we work together."

Board chair to bring motion

Chair Coun. Diane Deans said the board needs to heed the community's message that police do not need to be "the responder of default" to calls that could be better handled by others.

"This is about building a better, more responsive, more respected, more trusted police service in our community that is part of a broader community safety and well-being plan," she said.

WATCH | Demonstrations pushed for a freeze:

Deans will bring forward a motion to redirect the money saved by police to develop a new mental health response project.

Horizon Ottawa, a grassroots municipal advocacy group which made frequent delegations to the board, said in a statement it was "disappointed and frustrated" by the board's decision, what it called "a half measure that doesn't go far enough to further real community safety."

The budget will go to city council for approval on Dec. 8.

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