Majority of residents support increasing police budget in 2022: Ottawa police survey

The Ottawa Police station on Elgin Street is seen in Ottawa, on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (Justin Tang/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

As community members and some councillors call on Ottawa police to freeze spending in 2022, a new survey suggests a majority of Ottawa residents want to increase funding for the police service next year.

A report for the Ottawa Police Services Board outlines budget consultations for the 2022 budget ahead of budget deliberations in November and December, including the results of the budget consultation survey conducted by Ottawa police and the board.

The survey shows residents want a new approach for police responses to social issues, particularly mental illness and addictions, and the public's distrust in the service has increased by 19 per cent over the past three years.

When asked about their preference between increasing, decreasing and maintaining the Ottawa police budget at its current level, 51 per cent of respondents favoured increasing the budget in 2022, while 26 per cent recommended decreasing the budget in 2022. A total of 16 per cent of respondents support maintaining the budget at 2021 levels.

The survey found that 53 per cent of respondents want police to increase the number of officers on the streets. It does note, "Support for reducing number of officers is highest amongst certain demographic groups, including some traditionally marginalized groups."

According to the report for Monday's police services board meeting, support for decreasing the budget and the number of officers on the streets was highest amongst several groups, including: Younger (under 45), transgender/other gender, higher education status, low-income residents, non-immigrants, persons with a disability, and urban residents.

The report notes 73 per cent of respondents are in favour of shifting some responsibility from OPS to community services, and 70 per cent want to see increased investment by the city of Ottawa in programs and services addressing social issues.

Last month, the Ottawa Police Services Board passed a motion directing staff to draft the 2022 budget assuming a zero per cent increase in funding. Staff would have to offer a detailed explanation of any additional funding beyond the funding freeze, including inflationary and/or collective bargaining increases.

In July, a report for the Ottawa Police Services Board warned a budget freeze in 2022 would result in the elimination of 140 officers, longer response times and the suspension of all recruiting, hiring and promotions. Staff said a zero per cent increase in the Ottawa Police levy on the property tax bill would result in a $13.5 million deficit.

LACK OF PUBLIC TRUST

The survey found an erosion of public trust with the Ottawa Police Service.

Forty-two per cent of residents say they have a "very high or high" level of trust in Ottawa Police, while 29 per cent indicated they have "little or no trust" in the service.

In 2018, 55 per cent of respondents indicated they had "very high or high" levels of trust in OPS, while 10 per cent had "little or no trust."

Suggestions for how to build trust include increasing police presence, increasing "accountability, integrity and transparency" and increasing meaningful public engagement and outreach. Another suggestion included transferring funding from the Ottawa police budget to community and social services.

POLICING PRIORITIES

The survey finds residents want the Ottawa Police Service to focus on creating alternative models for mental health responses, community policing and traffic safety moving forward.

Residents want a new approach for response to social issues, particularly mental illness and addiction.

"The desired role for OPS in these responses varies significantly, but it is clear a new approach is needed," said police in a media release. 

Respondents were asked to suggest three priorities for the Ottawa Police and Ottawa Police Services Board over the next one to three years.

The top five shared priorities were

  • Creating an alternative model to mental health response
  • Community policing
  • Violence against women
  • A youth strategy
  • Traffic safety

The top concerns for the community includes gun violence, violence against women, distracted driving and mental health/overdoses.

"We have heard the calls for change which includes the need to work more effectively with our community partners on integrated and/or alternative responses to social issues, especially when it comes to mental health and addictions calls,” said Chief Peter Sloly in a statement.

“Moving forward, our 2022 Draft Budget will address these important community and member issues, ensure ongoing investments in equity, diversity and inclusion while addressing the community safety and well-being needs of a growing city.”

More than 4,440 people completed the survey between Sept. 1 and Oct. 1, which was posted on the Ottawa Police Service and the Ottawa Police Services Board websites.

The report notes there are limitations with the survey, including that it was conducted online, not possible to control access to ensure that a respondent only fills out a survey once and the non-probability method of survey distribution since it was only posted on the police websites.

You can read the report on the Ottawa Police Services Board agenda.

The Ottawa Police Service budget will be tabled on Nov. 3. 

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