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Regional councillors debate $18M increase to police budget

WRPS are seeking to hire 19 new officers this year

Regional council had the opportunity to question Waterloo Regional Police Chief Mark Crowell about the proposed 2023 police budget at a strategic planning and budget committee meeting on Wednesday. 

Police are asking for a budget of $214 million which would mark an $18.3 million increase compared to the previous year. 

In a presentation, Crowell explained the various challenges police are currently facing. 

"Population growth, considerable service demands from the public, numerous investigative and operational complexities, and the resulting impact on citizens and also our members."

Crowell cited increasing violent crime rates in his presentation. In 2022, shootings rose in the region by 56 per cent compared to 2021, while weapons violations increased by 27 per cent. 

As well, due to population growth, police had around 127 officers per 100,000 residents in 2022. In 2012, police had close to 146 officers per 100,000 residents. 

Councillors commended the WRPS for the work that they do, but some had concerns about how the budget would impact other services such as affordability, and housing. 

"I'm just noting the fact that it makes it really difficult for us to continue to fund some of those root cause issues," said Waterloo Mayor, Dorothy McCabe. "With affordable housing, and housing, and homelessness."

Councillor Rob Deutschmann said the request for 19 new officers was a big ask. 

"Many professions have to do more with less, front line services, paramedics for example," he said. "Chief, you've acknowledged that police and upstream services play an important role together ... but these are difficult economic times."

Other councillors were in favour of the budget increase including North Dumfires Mayor Sue Foxton.

"I think we need you, I think we need you badly, not to be heavy-handed, but I think we need you as the guardians of our community," she said. 

Councillor Doug Craig echoed that sentiment. 

"People want the police in their neighbourhoods, they want them responding to the crimes, and they want to feel safe in their communities," Craig said. 

Another strategic plan and budget committee meeting is scheduled for February 8. The budget is expected to be finalized on February 22.