Ottawa police budget proposed to rise by $14 million in 2022

The draft Ottawa Police Service budget for 2022 is set for a $14-million increase over last year’s levels and includes no plans for additional officer hires.

Tabled at the OPS board meeting Wednesday morning, the service’s net operating budget for 2022 is proposed to be $346.5 million, compared with $332.5 million in 2021.

The increase to the police budget in 2022 would represent a roughly $19 increase per property tax bill for the average urban Ottawa homeowner.

Taxation revenues for the force would be up 2.86 per cent year-over-year, within the envelope provided by council in July.

The board had directed the OPS and Chief Peter Sloly to craft a budget for the coming year assuming a net-zero increase, save for any unavoidable hikes such as labour negotiations and inflation.

The OPS said in a statement that it was facing budget pressures of $14.7 million related to these areas and was able to find $5.1 million in cost-saving efficiencies.

The OPS had planned to add 30 new growth officers to the service in 2022 but will forgo those plans, according to a statement.

Community advocates, alongside some city councillors, have lobbied the OPSB for months to freeze the police force’s budget going forward.

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The board hired a consultant, StrategyCorp., earlier this year to explore ways to limit the OPS budget ask, but chair Diane Deans conceded in July that a zero-increase budget might not happen for 2022.

Deans said before the budget presentation that both the board and the service realize they are at a “critical juncture” as it relates to police funding, while Sloly called the 2022 deliberations the “most in-depth budget process to date.”

Speaking to media Wednesday after the budget was tabled, Deans said she expected the final budget increase would ultimately be below 2.86 per cent as board members begin deliberations to pick the plan apart “line-by-line.”

“The service request is 2.86 per cent for 2022, that’s their starting number. That is, in all probability, not the percentage increase at the end of the process that the board will approve,” she said. “But that remains to be seen, we obviously have a lot of work to do.”

Mayor Jim Watson said later Wednesday that he was “pleased” that the budget did not include plans to cut any officers, which the OPS had warned earlier this year would be the case if the board sought a funding freeze for 2022.

He added that he hopes there are not attempts to “slash the budget” over the coming month of deliberations but said there will be “a lot of scrutiny” on the proposal at the board.

Deans added that the board has heard the calls from the public to limit the police budget and shift responsibilities away from the police, and suggested she’d like to see pilot projects launched to speed up these changes in policing.

“The service is giving us a roadmap on how we might get there. The board might like to see that expedited,” she said.

Among the new line items in the draft budget is $400,000 for a call-referral program for “low-risk, low-acuity” 911 calls such as mental health or addiction crises to be immediately diverted to the social services sector for a more appropriate response than a police-first approach.

The budget also includes plans to deliver culturally specific services for First Nations, Metis and Inuit residents, improve OPS culture in the workplace to reduce instances of harassment and discrimination and initiatives to improve officer mental health resources.

The $5.1 million in savings include a plan to privatize collision reporting centres and a “rationalizing” exercise for the OPS fleet and facilities.

The OPSB’s finance and audit committee will hear from public delegates on Nov. 9 at 9:30 a.m.

Delegates can also speak at the regular Nov. 22 meeting of the OPSB where it will sign off on the final budget, which is then set for approval at city council on Dec. 8.

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