Ottawa Police Services Board approves 2020 budget as downtown BIAs ask for more support

The Ottawa Police Service headquarters at 474 Elgin Street. Screenshot / Google Maps

The Ottawa Police Services Board has approved the police force’s plan to renew its neighbourhood resource teams and hire and assign more officers to high-priority neighbourhoods in Ottawa next year, as the heads of a few downtown business improvement areas (BIAs) appeal for more support in their communities.

On Monday evening, the board considered the Ottawa Police Service’s 2020 draft budget which, among other spending, proposes hiring 30 more police officers next year to boost the force’s community policing efforts in the national capital.

According to the budget, which still requires approval by city council, 13 of those new officers which would be specifically assigned to two new neighbourhood resource teams, designed to “increase police presence and address community concerns about crime and social disorder.”

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The police service already launched three teams as a part of a pilot in October — essentially a rebirth of an old community policing model that was scrapped in 2017 due to budget constraints.

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Vanier-Overbrook, Carlington-Caldwell and Heron Gate-South Ottawa got the three new teams this year “because of elevated rates of calls for service, property crimes, and violent incidents involving shootings, stabbings and homicides,” the police budget says.

The board heard on Monday that the neighbourhood team model works and should be renewed and expanded to other areas next year.

“In the few short weeks that our neighbourhood resource team has been in place, we have seen tremendous leaps in the right direction,” said a statement read out to the board on behalf of Nathalie Carrier, executive director Quartier Vanier BIA.

Another downtown BIA director urged Ottawa police to give the ByWard Market a dedicated neighbourhood team next. Jasna Jennings, executive director of the ByWard Market BIA, told the board her organization was “disappointed” the bustling, tourist-filled area wasn’t selected for the pilot, arguing the central area regularly deals with violence, theft and “nuisance behaviour.”

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Over the spring and summer, Ottawa police stationed extra officers in the ByWard Market as part of a weekend community safety initiative to “reduce crime and public disorder” on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Jennings, however, argued that’s no replacement for officers who patrol the neighbourhood daily and “who know who’s who.”

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“The market is bustling seven days a week from morning to night. We need a return of dedicated officers all day, every day,” Jennings said.

The executive director of the Preston Street BIA also came out to ask Ottawa police to better address what she argued has been an “alarming increase” in crime in the Little Italy neighbourhood.

“I’ve been doing this job for 18 years and I’ve never had to come before this board in the past,” Lori Mellor said.

The community is dealing with repeated break-and-enters and “smash and grabs” targeting residents’ and patrons’ vehicles and many people who attended a recent community safety meeting “felt that having police presence on the streets would deter crime in the area,” Mellor said.

She didn’t specifically ask Ottawa police to deploy a neighbourhood resource team, but requested a targeted public awareness campaign about the importance of filing police reports and allowing victims of crime to report more types of incidents over the phone again, rather than online.

While he said he’s not in a position to commit to anything concrete right now, Chief Peter Sloly told Mellor the activity in Little Italy is on the radar of Ottawa police and is being reviewed.

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“There’s a very live discussion about where our next series of significant investments will be,” Sloly said.

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The police’s budget document notes that the new neighbourhood teams won’t be staffed 24/7 and any “expansion or extension of the program” would depend on future budget approvals by the police services board.

The 2020 budget — a net operating budget of $319.2 million, with a police tax rate increase of three per cent — will go to city council for approval on Dec. 11, 2019.

That budget also proposes investing $4.2 million in “wellness programming” for police officers, like peer support and access to professional psychological services and money a permanent equity, diversity and inclusion office.

The Ottawa Police Service expects to end 2019 with a $2.4 million surplus, which would be transferred to the city’s general reserves. However, the city would then return that money to the force in 2020, the police service’s chief administrative officer confirmed on Monday.

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In his verbal report to the police services board on Monday, Sloly also provided an update on gun crime in Ottawa this year.

He said police investigators have solved all 12 of the city’s homicides this year and confirmed that a “targeted” shooting outside a west-end gym on Nov. 20 marked the city’s 68th shooting of 2019.

Asked by Coun. Carol Anne Meehan how the number of shootings compares to those in 2018, Sloly said it’s a slightly lower number than Ottawa had registered at this same time last year.

Sloly and Deputy Police Chief Uday Jaswal said this shows the police force is “trending in the right direction” but noted that figure is “still too high for our liking.”

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