Ottawa police chief presents 'change budget' for 2021

·3 min read

Ottawa's police chief and his executives have laid out what they're calling a "change budget" aimed at posting more neighbourhood officers and getting at the underlying causes of crime.

"We're putting our money where our mouth is. We're not just saying something is a priority," Chief Peter Sloly told the police services board as the 2021 police budget was tabled Wednesday morning.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) has set out plans to expand neighbourhood resource teams, which were revived last year, beyond downtown and into the suburbs. Twenty officers will now be assigned to those new teams at a cost of $11.5 million in 2021, bringing the total number of neighbourhood officers to 89.

Another five new officers will boost the investigative powers of the sexual assault and child abuse unit, as well as the partner assault unit. That includes one officer focused on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

The OPS has also committed to a new approach for dealing with mental health calls. Sloly said he wants police to have an "important but much more reduced role" and wants to be "at the table, but not at the head of the table" in designing that strategy.

Instead, he expects Ottawa Public Health and other community groups to take the lead. The budget includes $1.5 million for the new strategy.

This is not a business-as-usual budget. This is a business-as-different and better budget.

- Chief Peter Sloly

The budget also adds four new positions for helping with officer wellness, which has been a priority for the chief since he took the helm just over a year ago.

In total, the OPS will add 30 sworn officers, in keeping with its four-year strategy to police a growing city.

Also included is money for Toronto lawyer Janice Rubin to review the force's workplace culture and investigate claims of sexual violence and harassment within its ranks.

Cultural shift

Sloly said the force will accomplish these many changes while staying within the three per cent property tax increase council has set.

"This is not a business-as-usual budget. This is a business-as-different and better budget," he said.

Sloly spoke at length of changing trends and world events that affect residents' perceptions and expectations of their police in Ottawa. Especially after the death of George Floyd last May in Minneapolis, Sloly said "people want solutions yesterday" when it comes to systemic racism.

To line up its nearly 1,300 officers and hundreds of civilian staff with the new priorities, the OPS also undertook a massive reorganization on Oct. 26 that affected 60 per cent of its workforce, explained chief administrative officer Jeff Letourneau.

In total, the police services budget would increase by $13.2 million in 2021 to a total of $332.5 million for operations. For the average urban household that's a tax increase of $19 next year, to $644, for policing. The OPS capital budget is expected to be $24.1 million, which includes spending on its fleet and a new station in Barrhaven.

Members of the public can weigh in on the budget when the police finance and audit committee meets Nov. 9, and at the next police services board meeting on Nov. 23. Ottawa city council must either accept or reject the police budget on Dec. 9.