Police Service budget increase doesn’t include new officers

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Sault Police Services had a west end street shut down, April 20, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

If the Police Service board increase of 10 percent is approved tonight without some changes, it won’t include hiring new officers.

Sault Ste. Marie Police Service Chief Hugh Stevenson had the job of presenting the proposed increase to council last night, an increase which didn’t appear to sit well with some of the councillors present.

“My position is that if council had before it a 10% increase in its levy, as you brought us in your budget, I guarantee you nobody that’s sitting around this table would vote for a 10% increase of our own budget,” said Councillor Matt Shoemaker after hearing the presentation.  “So, I’m eager to know that every avenue for savings has been looked at.”

Shoemaker had just made the suggestion that some of the levy funding for maintenance of the police station, a City asset, be moved to the capital budget instead of the police levy. The building, originally built in 1968, with the addition completed in 1991, is described as a “money pit”.

He had also asked if there were civilian jobs which are currently duplicated by city staff and could be combined. Stevenson revealed it could be studied but that a third party would have to come in and do that analysis and an answer would be months away.

“You’re talking about the consolidation of civilian positions with the city’s.  If we’re going to do it, as I presented at the board, it would be for front-line officers and civilians,” stated Stevenson. “The argument there is, you know, in FTE’s (Full time employees), the SSMPS has not had an increase since 2000 in police officers and we know our City has accumulated a higher degree of risk due to long term drug addiction etcetera.”

The shortage of vehicles available for response to citizens’ calls is also an issue for police services causing a significant increase in their vehicle leasing, which Councillor Marchi Bruni focused on.

“One of my questions is regarding your vehicle leases, the increase of 52.5%, [for] a total of $377,000. Do you have anything in your procurement policy regarding teaming up with other police services?,” asked Bruni. “As an example, and I’m pretty sure you’re familiar with, say the OPP, they provide vehicles for all the detachments in Ontario.”

Stevenson told Bruni that the department is part of a purchasing group, which means the vehicles here are the same price as if another department wanted to purchase the same one elsewhere.

“Police vehicles for everyone, [you] have to understand they run 24/7 365 days a year. So

Sault Police Cruiser investigating a mid-afternoon collision on Great Northern Road, September 28, 2021 – (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

basically, they’re only turned off when you’re going through a shift change or they’re getting an oil change,” stated Stevenson in his presentation. “So vehicles are simply an ongoing cost and the lack of availability, pushes this up to a 52 and a half percent increase.”

Councillor Sandra Hollingsworth wanted the chief to cite three times where his organization has tried implementing strategies other departments have demonstrated as effective in reducing costs. She even referenced the North Bay detachment’s attempt to incorporate OPP into policing the town.  She was adamant, however, in averring that she wasn’t suggesting that particular strategy for our community.

collision on Second Line where police were on scene as well as EMS, August 31, 2021 (Dan Gray/SaultOnline.com)

In 2018, North Bay council voted twice to not approach the OPP for an estimated cost in obtaining services to police their community.

Stevenson didn’t have any direct examples but gave a lengthy explanation on the three allocations which cost the most to any service; full time employees, labour costs (which are 90% of the budget) and associated infrastructure costs.

“The best answer I can say is we are always, continually looking for efficiencies and how we deploy our very expensive front-line resources, and how that relates to community effectiveness.”

The community feedback which was brought to council and that many councillors commented on last night identified, for multiple reasons, policing to be the number 1 concern in the community.

A budget which includes a 10 percent increase in fees, while not adding any police officers, may be hard for more than just Councillors to swallow.

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