Victim support groups vow to keep close eye on new OPS hires

·2 min read

As Ottawa's police force sets out to hire five new investigators, organizations that support survivors of gender-based violence say they'll be watching closely to make sure the quality of service also improves.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) is planning to add five new officers to the sexual assault and child abuse section and the partner assault unit, with one officer focusing on the city's Indigenous community.

Erin Leigh, executive director of the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women, said her organization is happy with that plan — but they had been calling for a freeze to the police budget.

On Nov. 26, despite several demands the Ottawa budget to be frozen or decreased, the police services board passed a $13.2-million increase for 2021.

"This [hiring plan] was presented as a one-off in a budget increase," said Leigh. "So it should not be a one-off, and it should not be part of a budget increase."

The quality of the police services provided to survivors of gender-based violence also needs to improve with the hires, she said.

"We are certainly wanting to make sure it's not just an increase of numbers without ensuring that the quality of services is there," said Leigh.

"One survivor might have a great police officer, and another one, not have as good an experience. We want everybody that calls in to have the same quality of experience."


Resources 'consistently' not high enough

The police force is well aware it needs "more resources" to provide the level of service that survivors require, said OPS Supt. Mark Ford.

"For many reasons, it's not only the increase in calls, but it's also the complexity of the files and the judicial process to ensure that we're successful in any prosecution," said Ford.

One of the new investigators will help co-ordinate with community prevention, education and support programs geared towards victims of gender-based violence, he noted.

"Consistently, one of the things that we have flagged is that the resources in those units are not high enough, including the staffing numbers," said Ford, referring to the sexual assault and partner assault units.

"I think this is the first time that we've seen that response really taken up by OPS."

Police forces in eastern Ontario have said they've noticed a significant increase in domestic violence calls since last spring, when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The OPS and Lanark County OPP have both reported an approximately 15 per cent increase in calls, while the Leeds and Grenville OPP has said it's seen a "slight increase in domestic assault incidents this year."

Since the summer, women's shelters and support services are also experiencing a surge in calls.