Barrie city police are asking for a 2.65 per cent hike in their 2021 budget.
While this increase goes past the 1.95 per cent increase outlined in the Barrie Police Services Board draft budget two months ago, Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood said there are sound operational and fiscal reasons.
“This approach strikes a balance between service delivery and fiscal concerns and provides a solid foundation for the city as it continues to grow,” she said through corporate communications. “The budget request presented at the September police services board meeting met the (city) council-issued guidance of a 1.95 per cent increase and would have resulted in the strategic gapping (not replacing) several positions and straining the service.”
Greenwood said at the board’s direction, police returned to the October meeting with a hybrid approach of strategic gapping while replacing two sworn officer positions — human-trafficking investigator and community safety/well-being officer — and two civilian positions, an information technology co-ordinator and a technical data recovery examiner.
“This recommendation sees an increase in the budget from the original scenario of $391,458 or a 2.65 per cent increase from our 2020 budget,” said the chief.
The police municipal funding request is almost $57.3 million. The police budget is part of Barrie’s operating and capital budget, which city council is scheduled to discuss in early 2021 and pass Jan. 25.
City police officials are scheduled to make their budget presentation to council on Jan. 11, 2021.
The total city police operating budget is $58.4 million, and takes up about 20 per cent of Barrie’s total operating budget, which also pays for emergency services such as fire protection and paramedics.
The vast majority of the police budget is spent on salaries, benefits and overtime pay. There’s also money in next year’s police budget for a radio system upgrade ($220,000) and legislative impacts (almost $3 million).
At Monday night’s city council meeting, Greenwood was asked how city police evaluate their costs.
“When we look at the cost analysis, that is not something that we do per call or per unit,” she said. “We have a percentage of the budget dollars associated to, for example, operational services, which was a huge chunk.
“So operational services makes up almost 35 per cent of our overall budget. Our operational support unit, which would be traffic, canine… makes up almost 24 per cent of our overall budget. Our investigative services (is) almost 18 per cent of the budget… but we don’t allocate dollars per call, or per officer.”
Coun. Jim Harris asked if there was more to come with the civilianization of police services, having less-expensive civilian positions on the force.
“We continue to have our HR (human resources) strategy that has focused on civilianization over the last number of years and we have seen significant change in our organization,” Greenwood said. “We still evaluate positions within the organization where we traditionally have a police officer, and we have been able to redeploy a police officer to front line or supportive investigative type functions and replace them with civilians.
“We have seen a significant change in what has been happening over the last year within the modernization of our way in which we respond to our courts and people going to trial," she added, "so we have expanded our use of special constables, which are civilian members of our organization, and they are supporting what we do in our prisoner management, our cell-block safety and security, along with our bail court appearances.”
Coun. Keenan Aylwin pressed the point further, with questions about the Community Outreach And Support Team (COAST), which does crisis intervention for Barrie citizens suffering from mental illness and/or emotional disturbances, who are unable or reluctant to utilize existing emergency services.
“I think it’s no secret that I’m an advocate for defunding the police and shifting some of those resources to address the root causes of crime,” he said. “And I realize that the police services board is not, much to my disappointment and to the disappointment of thousands in the community, not recommending a look at our budget to reallocate to crime prevention, but have you looked internally at reallocating funding for sworn officers… to the COAST team as a way of putting your money where your mouth is and saying look we believe in shifting to a more proactive approach. Is that something you’ve considered?”
“We currently have sworn officers that perform the function from a policing perspective in partnership with our CMHA (Canadian Mental Health Association), and those individuals have certain limitations in regards to what they can do and that’s why the joint team has been very effective on our community,” Greenwood said. “So could you explain what part of the question I haven’t answered?”
“I was asking if you have considered shifting resources that you spend on the more traditional patrols with sworn officers going out to the COAST team so you can expand that program,” Aylwin said
“We would certainly consider placing more officers in that type of role, but we need the support from CMHA and they have to be able to provide us with crisis workers in that area,” Greenwood said. “So we’re always looking at expanding something, but it needs to be a joint effort.”
Last June, Aylwin, who had been vocal about the city's police budget and the 'Defund the Police' movement, tabled a motion asking the Barrie Police Services Board to provide information about what a minimum 10 per cent police budget reduction could look like in 2021.
Some of that money could be reallocated into other community-led alternatives to policing, affordable housing, anti-racism education, social and community services, skills training, employment counselling, and food security, said Aylwin.
His motion failed, with only Deputy Mayor Barry Ward supporting it.