Ottawa Police Service Board approves less than requested $14M budget increase

An Ottawa Police Service vehicle is seen idling in downtown traffic on a cloudy day.
The Ottawa Police Service Board has approved a two per cent increase to the Ottawa Police budget, instead of the requested 2.86 per cent. Photo by Meara Belanger.
Meara Belanger - CHUO - OttawaON | 25-11-2021

The Ottawa Police Service Board approved an $11 million increase to the 2022 Ottawa Police budget on Tuesday.

The Ottawa Police Service (OPS) draft budget proposal was tabled on Nov. 3. The proposed budget indicated a net operation cost of $346.5 million in 2022, requesting an increase of $14 million—or 2.9 per cent—from the 2021 budget. The increased funding would also lead to a $19 average tax hike for Ottawa residents.

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly was tasked by the Ottawa Police Service Board (OPSB) with creating a 2022 budget which would assume a net-zero increase. The OPS were set to hire 30 new staff in the new year, but have since dispensed with that plan.

In a press release following the publication of the budget proposal, Sloly said the increased operating costs were unavoidable. The draft budget contained $5.1 million in cost-saving efficiencies, with an extra $2 million added after Tuesday’s vote.

However, community members and some city councillors lobbied to freeze the budget altogether.

Last month, the OPS said in a statement that a budget freeze would lead to a cessation of all hiring and recruitment efforts, and lead to longer response times.

In a statement, Sloly said that the OPS is taking a “balanced approach” to crime in 2022.

“The end state vision of this budget plan is to build a police service where every community member and every service member feels respected, supported, and accepted, no matter their background, status or circumstances,” said Sloly in the press release.

Contrary to Sloly’s comments, an October survey of 4,400 people from Ottawa conducted by the OPS to establish public sentiment concerning police services revealed decreased levels of trust in the OPS. The survey indicated that 46 per cent of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that the OPS is an “open and transparent” organization, and 41 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the OPS “provides the same quality of service to all citizens.”

On Nov. 9, representatives of the OPSB met to discuss the proposed budget and field questions from the public. Local economist Nora Ottenhof brought her concerns to the table, asking why the OPS, largely conceived as ineffective, should warrant a $14 million budget increase. Specifically, Ottenhof requested that certain line items be struck from the budget.

“As we’ve discussed in previous delegations, one we feel strongly about is defunding the line items put toward mental health and allocating that to community services instead,” said Ottenhof.

One of the “focus areas” highlighted in the 2022 budget proposal is to “develop an alternate response method to social issues, particularly mental illness and addiction.”

Ottenhof also pointed out that the budget has provisions for dry cleaning, lunch vouchers, and other items which “should not be paid for by taxpayers.”

Other concerns were raised by economist Saamia Ahmad, who urged board members not to approve the 2022 budget, but to approve a freeze instead.

Ahmad called the OPS’ assertion that there was no room for increased efficiencies, “a bold-faced lie.” Ahmad pointed out that many of the budget allocations are unnecessary, and are provided for services which could be delegated to other public institutions.

“It is also inconceivable to increase the funding to police, when other city services remain so underfunded, and countless community members have called to have police involved in fewer interactions,” said Ahmad.

Last month, the OPS said in a statement that a budget freeze would lead to a cessation of all hiring and recruitment efforts, and lead to longer response times.

Ahmad indicated that slow response times are not due to a lack of funding, but to the unwillingness of the OPS to cede some of its responsibilities to other public services.

On Monday, board members heard from 40 delegates, the majority of whom spoke against an increase to the police budget, demanding a freeze instead. After nearly four hours of listening to commentary from members of the public, board members moved to postpone the vote until Tuesday.

As board members deliberated on Tuesday afternoon, demonstrators gathered around the OPS headquarters at 474 Elgin St. to protest an increase.

On Tuesday evening, an amended budget was approved by the board, granting the OPS an $11 million budget increase instead of the proposed $14 million.

Final approval of the budget will take place during a board meeting on Dec. 8.

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