Late last week, SaultOnline was able to speak with both Mayor Provenzano and CAO Malcolm White about the ongoing opioid crisis in Sault Ste. Marie.
We asked both individuals, based on a recent viewer poll we ran on SaultOnline, if police services were to ask if they could hire more officers, would Council say no?
Mayor Provenzano gave a longer response to the question, which starts about 39 minutes into the Budget 2022 Town Hall we hosted and included with this story. Given his unique position of being mandated to serve on the Police Services Board, and the 7 years he has served in that position, the following was his answer:
“The police service budget does come to Council and council isn’t required to just say yes to the police budget.
Council can’t get into the details of it and say we’re not going to fund x or y, or we’re not going to fund a car, or we’re not going to fund a specific aspect of it. But Council can, I think, in its authority make decisions as to the level of funding.
I’ll point out something since I’ve been involved in it seven years now, the police service budget has gone up every single year, and every single year that police service budget has gone to council it’s been approved every single year.”
Since 2016 the police budget has gone up from 23.8 million to a projected 31 million next year.
“So like the Sault Ste. Marie Police Services isn’t asking Mayor and Council to approve the hiring of officers, that wouldn’t be in Councils jurisdiction, it would be in the police service board’s jurisdiction. But in the end, costs associated that would be something that Counsil would have some input on, and have some ability to offer a perspective on.”
But the police service budget has gone up every year. It’s going up again this year. I think it’s gone up every year more significantly than any other budget… I think about a decade ago, it was around 23 million, and now we’re tracking at 33 million. So the police service budget has gone up $10 million over the last 10 years. And frankly, I don’t think that that is is the answer to the challenges we’re dealing with.”
Those challenges, which represent some of the major conversations surfacing in Sault Ste. Marie recently, are both addiction and mental health related.
- in 2020, the rate of opioid-related deaths in the Algoma district was 44.7 per 100, 000 (compared to Ontario at 16.3 per 100,000 people)
- in 2020, the opioid-related death rate in Algoma was 3x the rate reported in 2019 (14.9 per 100,000)
- From April 2020 to March 2021, there were 51 total deaths reported (41 confirmed and 10 probable). This represents a 96% increase in opioid-related deaths compared to the previous year (26 opioid-related deaths reported)
- From January 2021 to July 2021, a total of 45 suspected drug-related deaths were reported
This means we lose over one person weekly to substance abuse and may be on track for 77 deaths by year end.
“I think the answer [to] the challenges we’re dealing with is to get people who need care for mental health and addictions the proper care… 80% of the Police Service calls from my understanding are for social disturbance and in response to social disturbance.
So I assure the Community that the police service budget has gone up. It’s gone up every year. It’s going up again this year. That budget will come to Council [and] has been approved by the Police Service Board. It will now go to Council for presentation and the Council will have an opportunity to comment.
“I don’t see any reason, or don’t have any expectation that Council will not approve the budget that’s before it. But I don’t prejudge that. I voted on it at the Police Service Board and am certainly going to vote on it at Council. But I think, you know, it’s a healthy budget for certain.
I think if you compare that budget on a per capita basis to police service budgets in comparable communities like North Bay, Thunder Bay, Sudbury, Timmons, Sarnia, Peterborough and Belleville, it would be another example you’ll see on a per capita basis that we are not under spending.”
We went back and fact checked this last statement given readily available statistics…
per person spending on policing:
- Thunder Bay – $427
- Sault Ste. Marie – $415
- North Bay – $411
- Sudbury – $393
- Sarnia – $371
“If you look at the number of officers that are in the full time complement, you’ll see in the cap per capita basis that we don’t have a small complement. So I think the service is properly funded. I think that we have a complement that’s an appropriate size for our community. But the reality is the challenges in our community, like challenges in our communities across Northern Ontario, and the province, and similar communities are significant.
They relate to other issues that need to be addressed by other levels of government to make sure that people are getting the care they need. If you have any discussions with leadership at the service though, I think they’ll tell you that they think a lot of the increase in the nonviolent crime relates to substance use. And people have substance use challenges.
A lot of the increase in violent crime doesn’t only really relate to substance use, but it also relates to the the distribution of the narcotics and the criminal parties looking to do that, from my perspective.
We need to criminalize and aggressively go after people that are making the narcotics, reducing the narcotics and distributing the narcotics. But people that are using them, I don’t think they should be criminalized. I think they should be given the opportunity to get the care that they need to address some of the challenges that they have.
That’s something that you’re not going to achieve by just continually, you know, increasing the money that you have available for police.”
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