'Coming back to bite us': London Police budget blamed for shift away from crime prevention

Responding to an onslaught of 9-1-1 calls is increasingly taking priority over efforts to prevent crime in London, Ont.

Police Chief Steve Williams warns that officers assigned to foot patrol and traffic division could be next for redeployment to frontline service, and that the previously redeployed Community Oriented Response (COR) Unit will not be reconstituted anytime soon.

“Hopefully we can restore the COR Unit, but to be honest I’m not hopeful that without additional resources we will stop the bleeding,” Chief Williams told the London Police Services Board.

The focus of the COR Unit was proactive policing including quick intervention to prevent escalation to more serious crimes.

In November, Chief Williams redeployed the COR Unit’s 14 officers to frontline service to address a steep rise in complex calls and investigations.

Response times to life-threatening Code 1 emergency calls had grown by 27 per cent, and police were taking 97 per cent longer to respond to Code 2 crimes in progress.

Non-emergency response times are now measured in days — not hours.

Next in line for redeployment, as a last resort, will be officers from foot patrol and traffic enforcement.

“They’re important to the community, and important to us, but these are officers we may need to redeploy in time if we don’t get relief elsewhere.”

On Thursday, a report to the London Police Services Board (LPSB) highlighting the many successes of the COR Unit in 2021 prompted calls for its return.

“I would encourage the board to look at this as a crisis,” said the LPSB’s new member Megan Walker.

Walker lamented the scaling back of proactive policing and early interventions that often prevent more serious crimes.

LPSB Member Jeff Lang pointed to years of police budgets approved by city council that failed to keep up with need in the community.

“This city is known for having one of the lowest per capita police costs of any city its size in Canada, and it’s coming back to bite us,” Lang said.

Chief Steve Williams told the board that eight new officers are completing their training, and more are studying at the police college, but those staffing gains may be offset by a what’s being described as a balloon of 30-year retirements.

A decision on the COR Unit will depend on call volumes in the spring and summer.

Concerned about shifting priorities from proactive crime prevention to reactive response to crimes that already occurred, the police board directed its finance committee to hold an emergency meeting with the chief to discuss options.

“Take a really serious look at how much money is needed, and what are our options to get it,” added Walker.

A date for that meeting has not been announced.