Ottawa police union challenges coun. Deans over pledge to ‘refine’ 2022 police budget

The union representing Ottawa police officers is accusing Ottawa Police Services Board Chair Diane Deans of appeasing to a small group of community members with her promise to review spending.

The Ottawa Police Service tabled its 2022 budget on Wednesday, with a 2.86 per cent increase in funding next year. The budget included $14.7 million in new funding to address labour costs and inflation, and cancelled plans to hire 30 new officers next year.

In a statement on Twitter, Deans said, "It will now be up to the board to refine those numbers in keeping with community expectations."

Some councillors and community groups, including Horizon Ottawa and the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition, had called on Ottawa police to at least freeze funding in 2022.

Today the Police Service tabled a budget ask at 2.86%. It will now be up to the Board to refine those numbers in keeping with community expectations.

— Diane Deans (@dianedeans) November 3, 2021

In a statement, Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof said Deans pledge to scrutinize Chief Peter Sloly's recommended budget "is troubling."

"PSB Chair Deans says she will perform a line-by-line review of the budget – all seemingly heroic efforts to reduce the budget," said Skof.

"But as the civilian oversight of the OPS, what unique skills does Deans bring to this review? Apart from being a career politician, and now Chair of the Board, what expertise does she bring to her efforts to reduce policing service levels? Chair Deans anchors her desperate sense of appeasing 'the community'  which we know does not support reductions in policing levels. Does Deans think she knows more about delivering a police service than the OPS Executive?"

The Ottawa Police Association notes that when Sloly was hired two years ago, he identified the need to increase the size of the Ottawa Police Service.

Skof says Ottawa currently has 121 police officers per 100,000 people, below the national average in major police services of 163 officers. He notes fewer officers mean higher workloads, and delayed response times to public calls for assistance.

Skof says the union was not consulted by the Ottawa Police Services Board during budget deliberations, and suggests where savings could be found.

"The Ottawa Police Services Board can find its efficiencies by eliminating the reliance on external consultants and 'pet projects'," said Skof. "Enough taxpayer money has been wasted on such things as the multimillion-dollar Service Initiative fiasco."

During Wednesday's budget presentation, Deans said the Ottawa Police Services Board has "heard the calls for change."

"As you are all aware, we are sitting at a critical junction where policing is being better reimagined in the broader context of community safety and wellbeing," said Deans.

"While we know there's a role for police in advancing community safety and wellbeing, we also recognize that certain types of calls would be better dealt with by other service providers who are better equipped to handle them."

Other councilors questioned the increase in the police budget. Coun. Catherine McKenney noted that the 2022 budget included $15 million for housing, $27 million for 95 community/social services agencies and $435,000 for a mental health pilot project.

"Ottawa police increase of $14m for a total of $350m+. This is going to be another difficult year for people suffering in this city," said McKenney.

"The police budget has tripled in 20 years outstripping population growth, inflation and tax increases. It removes valuable funding from community mental health response," said Coun. Shawn Menard on Twitter. "Ottawa would be best served by investments addressing health, wellness and financial security in communities."

The Ottawa Police Association suggests Deans is playing politics with the budget.

"Deans’ approach to the budget appeases a small group of community members seeking major change in policing," said Skof. "It also tests the waters for her potential mayoral candidacy next year."