‘Just no way to absorb a cut’: Calgary police chief says cuts to city’s police budget would impact citizens

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WATCH: The budget debate at Calgary city hall moved into its second day Tuesday as councillors continued trying to balance taxes and spending. The police chief took his case to council, voicing his concerns about proposed cuts to the police budget. Gil Tucker has the latest – Nov 26, 2019

Calgary’s police chief says proposed cuts to the service’s budget would have an impact on Calgarians.

Chief Mark Neufeld spoke before city council on Tuesday, as councillors reviewed possible scenarios as they prepare to finalize the city’s 2020 budget.

READ MORE: More budget cuts will have significant impacts to Calgary police services: Commission

One of those scenarios involves a property tax freeze, which would potentially mean an $8.5 million cut to the police budget.

“We are facing a lot of challenges in the city right now, so that’s a tough time to take a cut on top of all the things we’ve been doing to become more and more efficient,” Neufeld said. “[With] the cuts that have happened previously, we are at a place where there’s just no way to absorb a cut without impacting service to citizens.”
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Neufeld said an $8.5 million cut to the police budget could lead to the service cutting about 85 positions.

“Certainly there will be some damage — the question is what kind of damage can we live with?” Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said. “How much impact is that going to have on people’s safety and people’s lives?”

READ MORE: Cuts to Calgary Fire Department, police service, transit as council approves $60M budget reduction

Neufeld said if the service has to lay off staff, most would be civilians and not front-line officers.

“What it means is that we’ve got to move away from some of the good work that we’re doing in the areas of prevention and intervention and partnerships, and basically just make sure that we’re reacting to calls,” Neufeld said.

“I know neither council nor the citizens want us to be a reactive police service. We see that in the surveys that we see, where people value the engagement they have with the Calgary Police Service. They value the prevention work that we do.”

The CPS gets the largest share of tax dollars in the city budget.

READ MORE: Calgary city council looking at scenarios to increase or freeze tax rate as budget talks continue

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Other scenarios councillors are considering include a three per cent property tax increase and a 1.5 per cent property tax increase.

It’s expected that neither of those options would bring police layoffs.

But Nenshi said council should remain open to all budget scenarios.

“We heard an idea today on the floor of council that we should have a lockbox around essential services and we’re not allowed to touch that budget,” Nenshi said.

“That is the worst possible idea because it doesn’t allow you to have any incentives to manage your costs. We need to be able to manage costs well, and frankly, the police have not had to deal with cost reductions to the same extent as others.”

Councillors are spending the week considering budget options that would bring cuts to many city departments.

“We are cutting everyone else,” Nenshi said. “The smaller departments by much more in order to protect police and fire as much as possible.”