Peterborough police chief argues 11.7% budget hike needed to ‘just keep the lights on’ – Peterborough

Peterborough Police Service Chief Stuart Betts says service cuts will likely come if the city doesn’t provide an 11.7 per cent budget increase for policing next year.

That was part of his message during a public budget presentation held Monday evening at the Healthy Planet Arena.

Betts, who was sworn in as the new chief in January, says in order for the service to maintain its current level of service next year, it will require at least an 11.7 per cent budget increase in 2024.

He warns if that number isn’t met, service cuts will be required.

“Between 2015 and 2021, our budget increases were less than three per cent,” he said.

Betts argues the 11.7 per cent is the “bare bones to keep the lights on” for policing in the city as a result of the rise of “uncontrolled costs” for items such as fuel, insurance premiums, equipment, legal fees, office leasing, information technology, retiree and work benefits and more.

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“This is just to keep the lights on,” he said. “These are things we cannot control.”

However, the Peterborough Police Services Board — of which Betts is a member — has not yet indicated its budget request for 2024. City council in January approved the municipal budget for 2023, which included a budget of over $29.1 million for the police service — a four per cent increase from the $27.1 million in 2022.

An 11.7 per cent budget increase would put the service’s budget at over $32.5 million.

The $29.1 million was 16.8 per cent of the city’s overall budget — down from 17.1 per cent over the previous two years, Betts noted.

The City of Peterborough has already recommended police initiate a hiring freeze in 2024. Betts referenced an external study by KPMG in 2021 that recommended the service hire 49 more people (a mix of officers and civilians) over the next five years. Eleven occurred in 2023 and 14 hires are expected in 2024.

“That’s about $80 per year per person in the city,” Betts said of the hiring in 2024. “That’s almost two rounds of golf. Depending on who you are in the room, that’s two cases of beer.”

Betts noted the service currently has 142 officers, of which 124 are fully deployable. The service also has 66 full-time and 10 part-time civilian members as staff.

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“We aren’t like everybody else. When it comes time to budget, we are 24-7, 365 days,” he said. “When people are having the worst day of their life, the police are the ones who are there. We are there, nobody else. Three per cent of the time it’s also fire, 44 per cent of the time EMS are also there (for a call).”

The chief says an overall increase in crime and subsequent workload has led to an increase in response time for incidents and clearance of crime within the service’s jurisdiction of Peterborough, Lakefield and Cavan-Monaghan Township.

Betts says a major budget increase is needed now.

“I’m not saying we are going to fix this all in one year, but we need to start moving in the right direction,” he said.

More resources can mean more hires to assist with investigations, some of which are lengthy and require additional help.

He noted the March death of a three-year-old girl who was struck by a vehicle in her driveway on Woodglade Boulevard. He said the investigation “took too long,” with charges just being laid this month.

Betts said that investigation required external resources such as the Durham Regional Police Service to analyze the car’s “black box.”

“It happened in the spring, and we just laid charges,” he said. “We didn’t have the tools to do the job. We don’t have the people to do that job. We had to wait nearly six months to get an answer for the family and the community as to what was happening at the time of the collision. Everyone was speculating.”

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Betts also noted that investigators located a suspect in six days for a homicide this year and “solved” two homicides in 2022 this year. All those investigators are “costly,” he said, noting that sometimes a wiretap is a last option, which can cost between $180,000 and $250,000 over two months.

“A quarter of a million dollars — but is that too high a price to pay to bring somebody to justice who has committed a homicide?” he asked the audience. “Probably not if you are the loved ones of that person. We’ve done two this year. Where’s that money coming from? We can’t plan for that.”

He noted that so far this year his service has made 11 requests to the OPP for assistance in investigations. There were 11 total for 2022 and 10 in 2021.

“Fortunately the OPP is not charging us for that — but they could,” he said.

New police station

Betts also noted the continuing search to replace the aging police station and infrastructure on Water Street.

Studies have placed a new building at $68 million and the police chief hinted that “we have some things in the works.”

“We can’t spill the beans on that, but do stay tuned,” he said.

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Click to play video: 'Dropped 911 calls reignite police service’s request for new station'

Dropped 911 calls reignite police service’s request for new station

Betts highlighted the cramped space in the building and other critical, costly issues, including a 911 system that had an outage in May.

“We have no fire suppression in our building,” he said. “Your 911 call centre is in that building. That’s critical infrastructure for your safety, for the community’s safety, my accountability — no fire suppression in that building. That’s where your 911 is, that’s where your backup 911 is.”

Betts called on the community to support the service’s budget request next year, but also asked them to weigh in themselves.

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Those in attendance asked the police chief about the service’s PTSD policy, workplace insurance payments to officers on leave and spending on mental health responders — all areas Betts says he will take into account when formulating and presenting the next budget.

— with files from Sam Houpt/Global News Peterborough 

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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