On November 23, the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) unanimously approved a 2% increase to the OPS budget, adjusted from the initial OPS draft budget that proposed a 2.86% increase. This decision was made after hearing from many members of the public and following a significant amount of deliberation over the last several months.
While I recognize that some members of the community do not feel that reducing the budget ask by 1% point went far enough, I have heard from others who think this reduction is too big.
The budget approved by the Board is supported by the Chief of Police and I believe that it strikes a balance between finding efficiencies and investing in key priorities, without reducing service and increasing strain on frontline officers.
The budget challenges the Service to continue to be as efficient as possible and tasks the Chief of Police to find an additional $2 million in management efficiencies. The Board was clear that this exercise should not include laying off frontline officers, allowing the Service to maintain current service levels as well as the diversity it has achieved so far through the newest class of hires. Instead, we encouraged the Chief to consider alternate sources of cost savings such as travel, conferences, office supplies, events, or any other source that he deems appropriate.
The budget also includes $5.2 million in spending on key priority initiatives including OPS Culture Change, Member Health and Wellness, and a new Indigenous and Inuit Strategy. These programs and initiatives have the potential to help realize additional savings and optimize the quality and efficiency of the services delivered by the OPS.
The OPSB has heard that investing in an alternative response to mental health calls is a community priority. The 2021 OPSB/OPS Budget Consultation Survey conducted earlier this year found that 73% of respondents favoured shifting some responsibility for social issues from the OPS to community services and 70% would like to see an increased investment by the City in programs and services addressing social issues.
As a Member of Council, I will be advocating that the difference between the original ask of 2.86% and the approved budget of 2% (equating $2.65 million) is used to support a safer, culturally-appropriate alternative for mental health crisis response under the City-led Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan. In doing so, we can address critical gaps in existing service delivery and advance mental wellbeing in Ottawa.
The OPSB has a responsibility to ensure the provision of adequate and effective policing in our city. As a civilian oversight Board our job is to set a budget that enables police to continue their important work, while also being mindful of the public purse.
City Council is set to approve the Budget at its meeting on December 8th.