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Sudbury police budget rising almost 5% in 2020

Loss of provincial grants, need for new HQ and costs for PTSD claims among reasons
Greater Sudbury Police are planning for a new police headquarters, something that has been in the works for several years. (File)

Greater Sudbury Police tables its $62.95 million budget today at the police services board meeting, representing a 4.94 per cent increase compared to 2019.

The majority of the budget – 84.1 per cent – is allocated to staffing costs for the force's 390 police and civilian personnel, which accounts for 3.71 per cent of the 2020 budget increase. 

Sudbury Police have faced major challenges in staffing since 2016, when the provincial Supporting Ontario's First Responders Act came into effect. It requires the WSIB to assume post-traumatic stress disorder diagnosed in emergency responders is work-related.

Since 2017, the number of front-line officers who have missed time related to PTSD has soared and mental-health concerns is now the leading reason for police personnel to be absent from work, followed by parental leave and physical injuries.

“Since its passage, the number of members off due to stress-related absences has seen a noted increase,” police say in their budget presentation.

“Approximately 10 per cent of total staff are non-deployable, meaning the staff are actually off work due to illness or other form of leave, along with temporary or permanently accommodations.

“Police associations and police administration are very concerned about the mental health impact that policing is having on its members. Extensive commitments continue to be made to policing both in terms of access to resources, member supports, and additional funding for professional services.”

Another major cost is the long-term planning for a new police headquarters, something that has been in the works for several years. Police and other emergency services are looking at the possibility of sharing a space, with a a feasibility study expected to begin by the end of the year.

Police set aside $900,000 last year to fund debt repayments for the headquarters, an amount increasing by $500,000 each year until it hits $3.4 million in 2024. 

While crime rates are down across Canada, challenges police face are becoming more complex. 

“For example, as recently as five years ago, technology-based crimes such as sexting, sextortion, bitcoin, crypto currency, dark web, back pages, and phishing scams were not even known,” the budget document says. “Crimes such as human trafficking and the opioid crisis are all contributing to sophisticated crime networks and require highly sophisticated investigative techniques and skills.”

And the number of 911 calls police respond to have not gone down – around 59,000 in 2018 — with 85 per cent of calls not related to crimes. One of the biggest sources of non-urgent calls are people with mental health issues, and finding ways to divert those calls is a challenge.

“Significant time and effort has been spent examining options for more efficient and effective means of responding to these types of situations,” police say in their budget presentation. “At the same time, there is a growing need to ensure police presence at large gatherings, protests, and strikes to ensure public order is maintained. In most of these cases, police personnel are the first responders.”

The loss of provincial grants for staffing – some of which were one-time and not designed to be renewed – is also adding to budget pressures.

The police budget increase comes at a time when Greater Sudbury is facing one of the bigger budget challenges it has faced since amalgamation. The initial city budget estimates the increase at 5.6 per cent, meaning $6 million in savings would have to be found to limit the hike to 3.5 per cent. On top of that amount, the city is running $7 million over its budget for 2019. Municipalities can't run deficits, so that amount will also have to come from savings or reserve funds.