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Winnipeg police chief hints at officer cuts with new proposed budget

Winnipeg police chief funding cuts
Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth hints at fewer officers if police don't see a higher funding proposal.

Winnipeg’s police chief said he is feeling the pressure as he fights for more money from the city to keep officers.

Chief Danny Smyth said he was asked to put together a proposed budget, but was told by city administrators to stick to a two per cent budget increase.

“We’re on the margins now,” Chief Smyth said. “We’re not really able to save anything more other than cutting into salaries and benefits, which means real people now.”

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The budget constraints could mean cutting 34 officers and 25 cadets over next four years, Smyth told the Winnipeg Police Board budget meeting Tuesday.

“It would put a strain on the resources,” he said. “We are already under strain. It would be difficult.”

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The city and police union signed a new contract in November 2017.

“This is going to be a challenge for me, because the same administration negotiated a five-year contract that included a 2.5 per cent increase, so I have a significant shortfall,” Smyth said.

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Police have been dealing with one of the most violent years on record and the mass effects of meth and gang violence.

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On Friday, Smyth announced drastic measures of realigning 74 officers from a number of areas to general patrol and foot patrol to try to help deal with backlogs, a nearly unprecedented 40 homicides and a spike in violent crime.

“I’m having a hard time reconciling the good work that’s being done in the community by our front-line members and the budget stuff, and it’s causing me some concern,” Smyth said.

It was a sentiment echoed by the president of the police union Tuesday.

“Our members are out there on a daily basis putting their lives in danger,” President Maurice Sabourin said. “They’re running from pillar to post and this is the thank you you get? The city is trying to save money off the backs of our members.”

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Councillor Kevin Klein, who is also the Police Board Chair, said this is just step one in the budget process and believes there is room to find efficiencies.

“(Smyth) said 2.8 per cent would allow us to keep the compliment we have now and that’s really only a few million dollars more and we have to consider that as a board,” Klein said.

Klein said he would like to see what that budget would look like before more decisions are made.

“If it’s a couple of million dollars, as we’ve heard and discussed, isn’t that an investment we would want to have to ensure we don’t reduce the complement of officers on the street?”