Police Budget Needs a Careful Look
The recent Citizen editorial, "More policing for the big city," supports the current Ottawa police budget proposal for an 11% increase this year while other services are being slashed. It argues that there is "a sense" that Ottawa is encountering big-city problems such as gang violence and "utter traffic lawlessness."
Whatever the Citizen's "sense," the available statistics simply don't bear it out. According to the Ottawa police's own figures from 2000 to 2002, freely available on their website, violent crime is decreasing (5,717 incidents in 2001, 5,463 in 2002). The property offence rate is stable: per 100,000 population, there were 4,321 offences in 2000, 4,225 in 2001, and 4,366 in 2002.
As for the "utter traffic lawlessness" that neighbourhoods are allegedly experiencing, the figures for traffic offences show a major drop: an 11.9% decrease from 2001 to 2002 for Criminal Code offences, and a 4% drop for Highway Traffic Act offences.
The Citizen might have considered, as well, the current misuse of existing police resources. Twenty-five officers and ten squad cars answered a bogus 911 call at a Somalian restaurant recently, and they subsequently incarcerated several completely innocent citizens overnight.
In 2002, at massive expense, 100 riot police were deployed for eight hours, with numerous pieces of heavy equipment, to evict seventeen frightened young people from an abandoned house on Gilmour Street. Numerous people have been arrested at demonstrations and held for long periods with no charges ever being laid. If the police can indulge in this kind of overkill within existing resources, why is an 11% increase needed?
On the other hand, the proposed budget is penny wise but pound foolish in a number of respects. For example, a 15% decrease in training funds is unwarranted at the exact time that increased racial and community sensitivity have proven to be needed. Cutting the budget of the Ottawa Police Services Board makes little sense when civilian oversight of the police has become an issue about which the Ontario government has expressed major concern.
In addition, the utter inefficacy of the current civilian complaints process, in which the provisions of the Ontario Police Act are regularly flouted and recourse is rarely achieved, calls aloud for being reconstituted and more generously funded, in order to make it credible and the police accountable to the community they serve.
To sum up, the Ottawa police are asking for considerably more money in the face of a stable or decreasing crime rate, while having shown little indication that they know how to manage the resources they already have. Claims on social, health, cultural, recreational, and environmental services, in the meantime, are increasing, yet they are faced with significant cuts. The relation of the police services budget to the city budget, therefore, needs to be considered seriously by Ottawa city council, even if, by law, the police budget can only be approved or rejected. The inevitable result of the cuts elsewhere will be more crime and hence a greater need for policing. Is this the way Ottawa wants to go?
for the Ottawa Witness Group