Mayor says increased spending in policing won’t address underlying issues

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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 Algoma:

  • 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.”

Thank-you for choosing SaultOnline/ONNtv for your source of news in Sault Ste. Marie and surrounding area.

 

11 COMMENTS

  1. It always surprises me that every time someone is arrested for drug possession they have a varied assortment of drugs on them. It used to be someone was arrested for having two joints or such. Now they have meth, heroin , fentanyl patches and a host of other illegal drugs worth thousands of dollars . It’s coming in to the City on a regular bases . It’s the same people being arrested over and over again . Although I disagree with the mayor on many things his hands are tied when it comes to changing the current laws. It’s the Federal and Provincial Governments that have the authority to makes laws that have some teeth in them. Three strikes and you get ten years would be a start for certain drug possession and trafficking.

  2. Does this mayor have a clue about anything?!?
    Policing techniques and programs are key – he’s trying to play a game of distraction.
    The SSMPS policing model is seriously old, they’re always playing [email protected]$$ed catch-up.
    Proactive policing and community policing are vital parts of the policing model which the SSMPS has the lowest engagement I’ve seen anywhere I’ve lived or travelled.
    When have you seen auxiliary police out and in what capacity? With many police services they are very well trained and accompany regular officers, not just for rotary days.
    When’s the last time anyone has been proactive foot patrols as a regular event? Most police services require a minimum percentage of the shift to be on a foot patrol in their assigned patrol zone.
    How many satellite offices do we see in areas of concern? None really. Usually these are set up as ‘portables’ in community or business areas of concern – this creates a better presence and ease of reporting – it makes them part & parcel of the community.
    And these are only a few points to begin with.
    This city desperately needs CHANGE.
    Further, if this mayor is so aware of what the underlying issues are then it should be quick and easy to action with the millions of dollars reallocated from the downtown project.
    I’ve reached out to the mayor, police services board and councilors several times and if I’ve learned anything it’s that they really don’t care. They’re going through the motions to say they’ve done something.
    Put our tax money where your mouth is.
    What a joke.

    • Makes sense to me Sickofthenewscanada.

      Good on ya for reaching out to the powers that be, and for sharing your thoughts on the type of positive, proactive change you’d like to see our Police and City Council act upon with our tax dollars. I appreciate it very much.

      Sincerely,
      Mark Brown

      P.S. If you have some high priority specific thoughts on the type of Policing changes you’d like to see that will make our community safer and healthier you should contact the Police Services Board in order to request to speak to them as a Delegation at their next meeting. The media covers those meetings. Politicians are always saying that they want Budget input. I can’t imagine why the Police Services Board would be any different.

  3. Moe

    With the number of deaths and the amount
    Of drugs on the street why hasn’t the police or drug unit made any big seizures. Maybe we need a new way of investigating or use out of town officers

  4. If Mayor and council were actually serious about reducing crime and the Opioid problem. Instead of wasting 8 million dollars on Plaza / Park which would within weeks end up being another needle park .
    That money would be better off used for the new treatment Centre on Old Garden River Road .

    • The Downtown Plaza is a slap in the face to our citizens who are in real jeopardy of dying because of their addictions. There is some help for these people in our city if they make the courageous choice to reach out for, and/or accept the help they need.

      The slap in the face comes from our Mayor and Council making the completion of the new Downtown Plaza a higher priority than doing something, anything, to spend our money on adding help for our fellow citizens who live with the daily threat of dying. Talk about a pandemic – a projected 77 deaths this year in Sault Ste. Marie alone – it’s time for our City Council to spend our money DOING SOMETHING to add to the addiction reduction help Mr. Mayor. Even if it is simply to let these citizens know, without a doubt, that their lives are important to us, and that they too belong in this wonderful place we all call home.

      The results of these “you matter, and you belong” expenditures will produce profoundly positive, far-reaching outcomes for all members of our community.

      Sincerely,
      Mark Brown

      Sincerely,
      Mark Brown

  5. 2011 Police Services Budget: $ 23,353,530
    2021 Police Services Budget: $ 29,570,897
    —————————————————–
    10 Year Increase in Police Budget: $ 6,217,367

    Not a $10 million dollar increase Mr. Mayor.

    STRIKE 1: You, Mr. Mayor, over-estimated the Police Budget increase over the past 10 years by almost $4 million dollars (a $3.78 million dollar over-estimate to be more precise)!?!? I get that you want everybody to think you and City Council are spending tons of money on Policing given Saultonline’s survey results, but even with lots of time to prepare for these questions you had to resort to a multi-million $$$ over-statement of the Police Budget increase?!? Tsk, tsk, tsk… I guess a $6.22 million dollar increase in the Police Budget over 10 years isn’t a big enough increase for you. Maybe you wanted it to be an $8.4 million dollar increase to keep it in line with all the other projects you and City Council have approved?

    STRIKE 2: You, Mr. Mayor, and one or two other city council members have been sitting around the Police Services Board table helping to create – line by line – every Police Budget over the past 7 years, and approving them all for recommendation to City Council. Yep, that’s before bringing those same Police Budgets to City Council for Council’s final Approval. So why do you keep whining about having to swallow the Police Budget year in and year out? I mean your whining has gotten so bad that you even had the City’s CFO move the Police Budget into the column of spending that City Council “has no control over”. For goodness sake, you and City Council are intimately involved in the creation of the Police Budget line by line every single year. You and I both know you’re being intellectually dishonest with us taxpayers when you repeatedly say that you and Council have no control over the Police Budget. If dedicating more policing money to mental health, addictions, and community policing is something you think should be prioritized as part of the Police Budget then advocate for those Budget expenditures at the Police Board Budget table. I’m sure Chief Stephenson, and the other Police Services Board Members are onside with more of that type of policing as a step along the continuum of reducing crime, and helping our citizens to live healthier lives. It’s simply a matter of spending priorities, Mr. Mayor, and leadership at the Police Services Board Budget table.

    STRIKE 3: You, Mr. Mayor, have got to stop complaining that healthcare-related crime is not a municipal responsibility. As a matter of fact it IS a municipal responsibility because it is crime (policing is required to combat crime). But its root cause is healthcare-related which makes it a hybrid responsibility – both provincial (healthcare) and municipal (crime) – so rather than trying to keep them separate, and wait for the province to do its healthcare share, you should have the Police Services Board dedicate some funding to a police services program where those police services can be combined with health care services at the hospital, and jails, and prisons so that something, anything, can be done for people who show up at the hospital, or in jails or prisons, because of their addictions to help them get back on the road to healthy living. Our municipality can do something through the combined efforts of our health care professionals, and our police professionals. Silos just aren’t working. It’s simply a matter police funding priorities, doing whatever the police can do to work in combination with health care professionals, and leadership.

    You can do it Mr. Mayor.

    Sincerely,
    Mark Brown

  6. It’s about making people feel safe, so obviously yes it will address the issue, people do not feel safe getting out of their car downtown, All the businesses should move out of downtown core and into mini malls on Great Northern Rd, rip down the mall because it’s infested. The Mayor has his head up his a$$ for a lot of issues in this City, people need to feel safe, and we don’t.

Comments are closed.