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Regional police budget calls for 15% increase to add 100 full-time staff

Police chief says Waterloo region now ranks fourth among 12 large Ontario cities on crime severity index

The first draft of the Waterloo Region Police Service’s 2022 budget is calling for an increase of 100 full-time positions to make up for two years of no new hires despite a 2019 review that recommended hiring 147 full-time staff to manage demand for service.

The budget request comes as population growth and a spike in gun violence recently landed Waterloo region in fourth place on the crime severity index of 12 large police forces across the province.

Those new staffing demands, however, would boost the police service’s operating budget to almost $214 million or 15.28 per cent over this year's budget.

Recognizing the impact it would put on the region’s overall budget, finance staff presented five scenarios to Wednesday’s police service board meeting.

Scenarios one through four result in full-time staffing expansions of 25, 35, 45 and 55 respectively to maintain adequate service delivery and keep up with workload demand.

But even with no expansion, the fifth scenario would result in a 5.81 per cent year-over-year budget increase. 

That number is reached by additional efficiencies in closing the Elmira detachment and using a mobile strategy that allows officers to complete work remotely.

The WRPS currently has 786 officers and 375 civilian staff for a total of 1,161. In addition, the police service board has an executive assistant, eight positions that rotate between departments, about 23 part-time employees and 16 temporary part time.

Rising employee benefit costs, contractual and inflationary pressures have had a major impact on the budget, said WRPS director of finance Kirsten Hand. They account for about 1.6 per cent of the year-over-year budget costs.

About 72 per cent of the WRPS budget, or $133 million, is dedicated to law enforcement and public safety, 25 per cent goes to administration and infrastructure, and two per cent covers emergency response and public order.

“There’s a lot of complexity to the work that we do,” police chief Bryan Larkin told the board.

“No doubt during the pandemic this has been a significant challenge and a significant pressure on our police service.”

Robberies, organized crime and gun violence call for “significant attention” from police, adding to the demand that already exists.

“We’re always starting in a deficit, we’re always starting in a challenge position to manage the demand of our community,” Larkin said. “Our members can simply not keep up with the amount of work.”

A review of staffing and workload demands completed in 2018 concluded the force needed to hire 147 new officers and civilian staff between 2019 and 2022.

It began by recommending adding an extra 79 full-time (FTE) positions in 2019, 16 in 2020, 39 in 2021 and 13 in 2022.

But the impact on the 2019 budget forced a reduction to 52 FTE with priority given to neighbourhood policing. Further reductions to service delivery for collision reporting and replacing officers with civilian staff got the number down to 47 FTE.

Budget pressures in 2020 and 2021 cancelled further expansion requests, resulting in a staffing deficit of 100 FTE by January of next year.

Even with the additions, the region is expected to come in lower than the national and provincial average rate for police officers to population. 

In 2019, WRPS had the lowest police officer to population rate since 2003 when there were 129.9 officers per 100,000. 

WRPS is also asking for $42 million for capital expenditures in 2022, including more than $6 million carried over from this year.

It will primarily be used for additions and renovations to the Central Division at 200 Frederick St. in Kitchener. Other recommended capital purchases include a new system for logging equipment and evidence, IT upgrades and replacement, and to replace 48 vehicles with hybrid or electric models.

Regional councillor Sandy Shantz questioned why it seems the crime severity index in other jurisdictions doesn’t appear to go down with the addition of officers.

“Where I think we’re struggling is managing the severity,” explained Larkin. “We need a refresh as a region on crime reduction and crime strategies.”

He offered the example of intimate partner violence, which despite the region’s “world class” ability to respond, hasn’t led to a reduction in crime. 

“So, we still have over 5,000 reported cases a year of intimate partner violence..but how do we get proactive? how do we get preventive? how do we build strategies?”

Larkin said investment in staff can help develop those strategies.

“Our members are working extremely hard and I’m concerned if we don’t provide some form of investment, we’re going to have to do business differently, cease doing different things.”

The budget will be tabled for regional council consideration next month.