A boost to the Calgary police budget looks to be likely following a vote by city council.
If the entire budget is passed, the Calgary Police Service stands to get $6.1 million on top of its $401 million, which will be used towards additional positions.
The Tuesday afternoon vote was passed 11-4, with councillors Gian-Carlo Carra, Kourtney Penner, Courtney Walcott and Mayor Jyoti Gondek in opposition.
“I think it’s incredibly important to see a demonstration of progress on certain files,” Gondek said following the meeting. “I think equity, diversity and inclusion is one (thing) we’ve asked the police service to work on over the years.
“I think they’re working very hard to get there. I didn’t necessarily see components of that in this ask.”
For three hours, members of CPS and Calgary Police Commission answered questions about their request.
During the presentation to city council, Calgary Police Commission interim chair Shawn Cornett said CPS is asking for 60 per cent of the positions that were originally proposed in the 2021 budget before they were waived because of city budget concerns.
She said CPS faces increased pressure from areas like an anticipated increase in crime to pre-pandemic levels next year, increased complexity of investigations and process due to legislative changes, demands to address systemic racism, an increase in protests and demonstrations, and documented low police morale.
CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said the combination of pandemic effects and the increased demands for policing are unprecedented.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve seen in 30 years of policing,” Neufeld said, adding that police in other major cities are facing similar challenges.
Neufeld said of the 38 positions that the budget addition would bring, 13 would be sworn officers and 25 would be civilian members.
The CPS chief said despite being “in the middle of the pack” in terms of crime rates, Calgary has one of the lowest officer-to-citizen ratios among Canadian cities.
“Even though we have one of the lowest police-to-population ratios, I think that really makes the point that we are a very safe city and that the number of officers on the street isn’t always in direct correlation to safety,” Penner said.
Neufeld said the additional positions would allow CPS to direct more staff to front-line policing. He also said some 275 members are currently on leave, putting added stress on staffing levels and leading to increased overtime.
“The challenge we have currently because of our front-line staffing levels is that we’re basically relegated to being far more reactive,” he said.
Neufeld said that the unsworn members will be necessary to help modernize CPS’ human resources practices and support front-line officers. He added bringing trained civilian professionals into the police service also helps reduce internal churn.
“The immediate thing for me — and it was driven home by the employee engagement survey — was to be able to push this human resource reform work across the finish line,” he said. “This is critical to our folks and it comes out again and again.”
Walcott challenged the idea that the police budget should increase given investments in alternative call response models in the past couple of years — investments designed to reduce the call load on police.
When the councillor asked if funding increases should wait until results bear out, Neufeld said the city’s crime profile has changed since the beginning of the economic downturn the city finds itself in.
“Are the interventions working? I think that’s a complicated question, because society continues to develop,” the CPS chief said. “I think things are pretty critical right now.”
“It’s a challenging standard to suggest that as circumstances change, we no longer can hold ourselves accountable to the plans that we set out in years prior just because of the shifting dynamics of our society,” Walcott responded.
The Ward 8 representative, who was just named to the Calgary Police Commission, added that when looking at the city budget as a whole along with causes of crime, the city has a role to help lighten the police workload through longer-term social service initiatives.
“If we’re really going to be partners in this, we need to look heavily at what we are doing to support people in need,” Walcott said.
Carra, Walcott’s colleague on the police commission, said he hasn’t seen anti-racism initiatives in action through day-to-day policing.
“I’m loath to support more resources until I can be more confident that both of those things are taking place — commitment to transformation, commitment to fiscal discipline — and that they are being fully integrated,” Carra said.
“I understand the difficult and fraught times we find ourselves in. I understand the argument for this money. But I think we have to establish a baseline of fiscal discipline to drive all this.”
Ward 6 councillor Richard Pootmans brought forward the motion to increase the police budget to debate in council chambers.
He said he heard from residents during the election campaign who wanted to see more work from city hall on community safety and protection of the public.
“(Residents) were very interested in hearing about boots on the ground, protection for their homes and families and communities,” Pootmans told reporters Tuesday evening. “So this is a perfect fit for what I think people I represent were looking for.”
The presentation by police was part of a weeklong budget adjustment process for 2022 by city council, with a final decision expected from the novice council in the coming days.
–With files from Adam MacVicar, Global News