November 29, 2018 2:54 pm
Updated: November 29, 2018 9:21 pm

Cannabis and annexation mean EPS needs more funding, Edmonton police tell city council

WATCH ABOVE: The cost of cannabis enforcement is in focus at city hall, as police made their pitch for more funding over the next four years. Vinesh Pratap reports.

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Edmonton police, representing the biggest portion of Edmonton’s budget, pleaded their case at city hall on Thursday.

Public hearings are underway as councillors hear from different stakeholders and groups as they try to finalize funding.

READ MORE: Edmonton mayor unveils 5-point plan for city’s ‘toughest budget in a decade’

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In 2019, city administration is recommending a 3.3 per cent tax hike, which means the average household would be paying an extra $80 next year. The proposed tax increase over the four-year budget cycle ranges from 3.3 to two per cent.

In some cases, the EPS request makes up more than half the tax increase.

READ MORE: Cost of cannabis: How will Edmonton pay for enforcement?

On Thursday, Edmonton police leaders outlined why police need additional funds. The recent legalization of cannabis and all the enforcement issues that are falling to police officers is one reason, according to the deputy police chief.

“Cannabis issues are going to escalate regardless of whether council chooses to fund officers to address them or not,” Al Murphy said. “And police officers must respond to these calls.

“If council takes a wait-and-see approach and decides to delay or defer this funding, we expect slower response times, reduced visibility and a further reduction in our proactive times. All of these outcomes contradict what taxpayers have said they want from their police service,” Murphy said.

READ MORE: Policing legal pot in Edmonton will cost upwards of $7M: chief 

He said so far this year, police have dealt with 34 suspected cannabis-impaired drivers, compared to 11 in 2017 and just one in 2016.

“Post legalization, we have also seen a serious injury collision where there was a suspected impairment by cannabis,” the deputy police chief said.

“That number is likely to rise significantly because the lab results are delayed so by the time the numbers actually meet, [it will be] probably about Q2 of 2019 until we know the final numbers.”

The province, through its Municipal Cannabis Transition Program, is only providing Edmonton with about $2 million over two years. But police estimate their cannabis-related costs will be closer to $7 million or $8 million.

READ MORE: LRT, Yellowhead, fixing roads mean big numbers for Edmonton capital budget

Current resources are just not enough, police stressed.

The current EPS budget is in the $430-million range, which includes about 2,500 full-time positions. EPS is proposing an increase over the next four years. By 2022, the police budget could be more than $500 million and include 2,800 staff, if council approves the budget request.

Another issue increasing demand on local police is the annexation of new lands south of Edmonton city limits, which means officers have a larger jurisdiction to monitor and enforce.

Police Chief Kevin Brezinski admits councillors have a very difficult job.

“If they cut our budget, obviously we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board and determine what do we want to give up.

“Ultimately we’d like them to approve our budget as is. I think it will be better for the public. It will be able to address some of the public safety concerns in the city.”

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