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Battle brewing over regional policing budget

A regional councillor says he'll table a motion Wednesday asking colleagues to reject the 2023 WRPS budget as it's currently proposed
File photo. Erin Anderson/KitchenerToday

The cost of policing is a hot-button topic in the region right now and at least one regional councillor says he wants to send this year's proposed spending package back to the board for some tweaking.

The main issue is the money. The Waterloo Regional Police Service is asking for a more than 7 per cent budget bump for 2023, equal to an additional $18.3 million and including the hiring of 19 new full-time officers.

"What I'm most opposed to is the fact they're asking us to pay on January 1, for police we haven't hired yet," said Coun. Rob Deutschmann, pointing out the additional funding would be retroactive to the start of 2023 despite no new officers having been hired.

"That's just not appropriate, we can't approve this budget and pay for essentially what is a ghost force; we don't even have these officers and they're wanting to be paid for them," he said.

Deutschmann also raised unease over the budget process itself, given regional council will only now be getting a say after the proposed budget's already received final approval from the police services board.

Because of that, and additional concern over the number of new police officers being requested, Deutschmann said he plans to table a motion at the strategic planning and budget committee on Wednesday that would reject the police budget, as currently proposed, and send it back to the police board for editing.

The region's top cop, meantime, is standing behind the numbers and the need for new officers despite a difference in those figures from late last year to now.

"From that meeting [in November] we had direction from the [police services] board, they want us to articulate a needs perspective on what we actually need to address the issues we're facing today," WRPS Chief of Police Mark Crowell said.

"Over the course of November, December, and January, that evolved to us presenting our metrics on issues related to crime, service demands, and so on; and us finding our proposal for a multi-year strategy."

And that is what is on the table now. Baked into this year's budget is a further commitment to hire at least 18 new officers in both 2024 and 2025, though funding for those new hires would be pushed into the next two rounds of budget talks.

"We're a very efficient, cost-effective service compared to services across Canada and we're seeing issues of growth play out," he said, adding he believes there is a need for continued investment in policing as part of the 'public safety infrastructure'.

"As our community grows, we need to believe that we grow in proportion as well, trying to find the balance for everybody."

That said, Crowell did also agree it is critical to keep the lines of communication open.

"Generally, I think it's an obligation of me, of our service, we want to be better connected to all councils [...] to provide better awareness, education, and reporting on what we're doing," he said. "I think that's important that our citizens and our governors know that, when we're called upon to speak about our work, especially when it comes to investments, performance, accountability, we'll show up wherever we're needed to."