Officers redeployed as London police deal with massive increase in demand

Chief Steve Williams says the volume of work facing offices is "reaching a breaking point" and has led to more than $400,000 in overtime so far this year. Matthew Trevithick / Global News

A number of police officers in London, Ont., working in proactive initiatives are being redeployed to the front lines as the police service deals with a workload the city’s top cop has described as “reaching a breaking point.”

Chief Steve Williams shared the news during Thursday’s meeting of the London Police Services Board (LPSB), the civilian board tasked with oversight of police.

In a memo to the LPSB shared ahead of the meeting, Williams offered statistics that compared workload levels between January and October of 2021 to the same time period in 2020.

Officers spent an additional 33,000 hours in the 2021 period responding to roughly the same amount of calls as the 2020 period, according to Williams.

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“These additional hours equate to the workload for an equivalent of 16 Full Time Employees,” his memo added.

He also noted that Code 1 calls, which relate to emergencies, life-threatening situations and serious crimes in progress, have increased by 27 per cent.

Meanwhile, Code 2 calls, which relate to non-emergency urgent calls, have seen a 96 per cent increase in response time.

“The month of September 2021 alone, saw a 226% increase in Code 2 response time compared to September 2020,” the memo said.

In other statistics shared with the LPSB last month, Williams said response times for Code 2 and Code 3 calls, which relate to non-emergencies with no immediate threat to life or personal safety, are now being measured in days, not hours.

The increased demand has cost police just over $450,000 in overtime, along with “60 occasions when minimum staffing requirements as provided for in the Collective Agreement could not be achieved.”

Other impacts include officer fatigue and burnout, as well as harm to morale and member wellness.

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Police have also seen repeated concern from the public with respect to increased response times.

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A number of steps have been taken to address the issue and the one most likely to be noticed by the public is the redeployment of officers.

The redeployments include eight school resource officers who are temporarily assigned to front-line patrol duties.

Eight officers from “other operational areas” have also been temporarily redeployed.

Elsewhere, 11 officers from the Community Oriented Response (COR) Unit have been redeployed to patrol duties, however, that shift has been scheduled for an indefinite period of time.

The COR Unit works as a team of officers assigned to different zones in the city. This team is then tasked with building relationships in these zones with the aim of addressing chronic neighbourhood issues and analyzing localized trends.

Williams says the loss of this unit means police will be “more reactive and less nimble,” adding that he hopes the redeployment is only temporary.

“There’s no question that our response time was suffering, holding calls in the queue for days is not acceptable, but the trajectory we are on with relation to service demands could affect our ability to respond to emergencies in the community,” Williams told the board on Thursday.

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“These changes will help mitigate that risk.”

Williams says police are now reviewing how it handles calls for service, potentially diverting some to other agencies and revisiting whether others are worth answering.

He adds that more staff are needed, which he hopes to achieve through a class attending the Ontario Police College in January, along with increased funding from the City of London’s 2023 annual budget update to its multi-year budget.

“The City of London will get the police service that they pay for, like any municipal service,” Williams said.

LPSB vice-chair and Ward 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer pushed back on Williams’ long-term goal, telling the board he’s “not convinced that the solution is we just need more money.”

Helmer stressed the complexity of the issue, adding that although police have added staff each year, the recent workload problem emerged anyway.

“The chief is talking about ‘turn off the tap,’ like stop all these calls coming in, the intensity of the calls, the severity of the calls. Is that really affected by the number of police officers who are out there? No, it’s affected by all of those things that are not police,” Helmer said.

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“I’m not saying that no increases in resources are reasonable or needed, but I don’t think it’s quite as simple as just saying we just need more … how do we change the overall response? How do we do things upstream of the problems so that they are avoided?”

The board voted to receive the memo from Williams, but no decisions were made on whether funding requests to alleviate the workload will be made going forward.

The city is currently engaged in budget talks for the 2022 annual update to its multi-year budget, which covers spending between 2020 and 2023.

If a funding request through assessment growth were to be made, it wouldn’t be unveiled until late next year when the city prepares its 2023 annual budget update.

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