Ottawa police budget proposed to rise $13.2M in 2021

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly presented the force's draft 2021 budget on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

Ottawa’s chief of police presented a draft budget Wednesday morning that would see 30 additional officers on the force, and provide for spending on a new mental health response strategy and anti-racism training in 2021.

The Ottawa Police Services (OPS) budget will increase $13.2 million under the proposal, based on a 3.0 per cent hike in the service’s annual levy and an estimated 1.5 per cent increase in growth assessment on new properties in the city. The proposed increase is in keeping with the 3.0 per cent property tax increase proposed across the city.

OPS Chief Peter Sloly said the service is not requesting any additional funds beyond that envelope for 2021.

The force would receive a net operating budget of $332.5 million and a gross operating budget of $376.4 million. Police funding would represent 9.5 per cent of Ottawa’s total 2021 budget.

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Sloly positioned the OPS draft budget as part of a multi-year change in the local force during his presentation to the board on Wednesday morning.

He said the past year since he joined OPS as chief has seen policing change dramatically in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global response to the death of George Floyd and subsequent resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and, locally, the fallout from the full acquittal of Const. Daniel Montsion in the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi.

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This budget was developed in response to demands from the community surrounding these significant societal shifts, he said.

“This is not a business-as-usual budget. This is a business-as-different-and-better budget,” Sloly said.

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The majority of the proposed hike in funding is to address inflationary increases to salaries and contract settlements, at an estimated cost of $11.3 million.

The OPS plans to hire 30 new officers in the year ahead at a cost of $3.9 million.

Twenty of the officers would be committed to neighbourhood policing teams, five would be crime prevention officers and five more would bolster the force’s violence against women services, including a specific investigator focusing on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

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The OPS will also spend $180,000 on its internal project to address sexual harassment and violence next year, including tapping a third party to handle intake and independent investigation of complaints.

A $225,000 budget commitment will also see Ottawa police officers receive additional training on de-escalation and on anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.

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The force will also spend up to $5 million on mental health and wellness of its officers.

Sloly had also previously outlined a new $1.5-million strategy that would see the response to mental health emergencies in Ottawa changed to include external practitioners in the community.

Sloly said this could see a mental health specialist placed in the city’s 9-1-1 dispatch centre to better respond to issues of mental illness in the community or additional investments in the force’s initiatives to pair officers with mental health workers, but he said specific initiatives will be based on input from community partners.

The draft OPS budget includes only $500,000 set aside for the development of this new strategy, but Sloly told media Wednesday morning that the police service is expecting a $1-million contribution through a provincial grant for the project.

He said that even if that grant doesn’t come through, he is committing that the force will find the $1 million needed for the new strategy elsewhere in its existing funds.

“We have to put people, money, time and focus behind the words that we’re speaking,” he said.

Sloly said this budget is not about the specific dollar amounts, but about signalling to the community that the initiatives the force is pursuing are aimed at restoring public confidence in the force.

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“If we absolutely commit ourselves to improving the quality of our service … then we will improve public trust — police legitimacy — and you don’t need a single dollar for that,” he said.

The OPS has also found $2.7 million in efficiencies for the 2021 budget, including cuts to travel expenses and through back-office integrations with city services and technologies.

Public delegations and city councillor questions on the OPS budget will be fielded at a Nov. 9 meeting of the finance and audit committee set for 1 p.m. via Zoom.

Delegations are also welcome on the draft budget at the Nov. 23 meeting of the Ottawa Police Services Board, where the final budget will be approved.

Ottawa city council will approve the full municipal budget on Dec. 9.

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