Citing a need for more officers on patrol and a dedicated homicide unit, Greater Sudbury Police Service is seeking to increase their number of sworn members by 24.
Police Chief Paul Pedersen announced the request during Thursday’s police board meeting, at which he tabled a 2023 budget proposal which carries a 6.7 per cent budget increase.
The proposed boost in members would include 18 officers for patrol operations, a four-member dedicated homicide unit and two more members for their drug enforcement unit.
“Despite having one of the highest homicide rates in the province, we do not have a dedicated homicide unit,” Pedersen said during Thursday’s meeting.
The two-member addition to the drug unit is a “minimum” requirement, he said, adding that they undertake “comprehensive and complex” investigations linked to not only the drugs that have resulted in recent years’ spike in fatal overdoses, but also guns and gang activity.
“We need these staffing enhancements to deliver adequate and effective services in our community.”
The 24-member boost would be introduced incrementally, with 10 additional members joining the force both this year and next, and the final four joining in 2025.
This requested boost to the 272-member police organization was front and centre during Thursday’s meeting. The overall 6.7 per cent budget increase being proposed would bring the Greater Sudbury Police Service’s annual budget to $73.4 million.
Their proposal far exceeds the 3.7 per cent tax increase city council is striving to achieve during their upcoming 2023 budget deliberations. Last year, the city’s elected officials asked all service partners, including police, to limit their budget increases to 3.7 per cent.
Drawing information from an extensive presentation and 85-page budget report, Pedersen told the board that a status-quo budget without any service level changes from 2022 would result in a 5.76 per cent budget increase.
He clarified that reining in the budget to the 3.7 per cent increase city council wants it limited to would involve “taking back service levels and cutting staffing levels.”
The 6.7 per cent increase on the table would see the city “incrementally starting to address the concerns of the community, the concerns of our membership, and starting to address adequate and effective policing service in this province,” he said.
“Our recommendation ... is balancing those needs of fiscal responsibility, but also the needs and desires of the community.”
When it comes to the proposed boost in officers, Pedersen came armed with a handful of points.
- Greater Sudbury has 158 officers per 100,000, which compares favourably to other municipalities in Ontario despite it being by far the largest in size, at 3,382.32 square kilometres.
- With a crime severity index of 84.4, Greater Sudbury is ranked third highest among the 15 Ontario cities listed. Greater Sudbury’s violent crime severity index of 127.2 ranks it as the highest among these municipalities. At 68.8, the city’s non-violent crime severity index is the fifth highest.
- Homicides are on the rise, linked to guns, gangs, stolen vehicles and drugs. In a recent year-end story, Sudbury.com counted 10 homicides. In addition to the 10 homicides cited by Sudbury.com, police count two vehicular manslaughter cases in their report.
- Police work is becoming increasingly complex. As an example, Pedersen noted that intimate partner violence investigations used to include one officer working for approximately one hour, which he said was ineffective. Now, such investigations typically involve two to three officers for 12 hours.
- In a recent public survey on policing in Greater Sudbury, the top concerns were drugs, visibility of police and traffic issues. Among members, staffing levels and the closely linked issue of member health and wellness topped the list of concerns.
- At any given time, between 11 and 13 per cent of members are not able to be deployed, and are being accommodated with non-operational duties.
- Between calls to support EMS (up 40 per cent since 2017) and mental health responses (up 380 per cent since 2017), approximately five officers are tied up at any given time.
The 6.7 per cent budget increase proposal tabled on Thursday also includes the partial reinstatement of the Citizens on Patrol program, at a cost of $54,642 in 2023.
Between the rising costs of WSIB (19 per cent jump from last year) and long-term disability (13 per cent increase from last year), Greater Sudbury Police Service CAO Sharon Baiden noted that a non-negotiable cost increase of approximately $500,000 has also been baked into the 2023 budget.
The tabled budget also includes setting aside $2.65 million for the long-proposed new police headquarters, which is a $500,000 increase from last year’s allotment. This money can also be used for renovations and maintenance of the existing building.
Thursday’s meeting closed with few questions from the five-member board, which includes chair (and Ward 8 Coun.) Al Sizer, Mayor Paul Lefebvre (Thursday’s meeting was his first on the board after being elected to city council on Oct. 24), Frances Caldarelli, Lise Poratto-Mason and Richard Bois. There was, however, early indication the board will push for the 6.7 per cent budget increase as proposed.
Sizer described the 3.7 per cent budget increase guideline from city council as “arbitrary,” and said that while he intends to “make every effort to achieve” the target, it’s going to be difficult.
Although Poratto-Mason said they need to recognize that the city faces financial pressures, “our public, the public who are our taxpayers, have said to us we need more police, we need more visibility of the police, they’re asking for increased police presence.”
Caldarelli similarly defended the proposed budget increase, noting the city’s social fabric has changed in recent years and there hasn’t been a major increase in staff for years.
Bois said that he believes police require the 6.7 per cent increase, and expressed concern about what might happen if city council isn’t happy about it.
Pedersen told the board that he’s scheduled to present their final approved budget to city council during the city’s Jan. 17 finance and administration committee meeting, and that the regular process for police budget approval will be followed.
City council will either accept or reject the board’s budget, Pedersen explained. If rejected, the budget will go back to the board to consider reductions. Whether the board modifies the budget or decides to keep it the same, it will then return to city council. If the city’s elected officials still do not accept the police budget, it’s sent out for review by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, which determines “what’s required to provide adequate and effective services for the community that we serve.”
The police board will meet again on Jan. 12 to further debate and potentially vote on a final 2023 budget. Additional meetings may be called if they don’t make a decision at that time.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.