The Ottawa Police Services Board has approved a two per cent funding hike for the local force in 2022, below the 2.86 per cent increase proposed in Chief Peter Sloly’s draft budget but short of the freeze called for by many community advocates.
The $11.45-million budget increase was adopted at Tuesday’s board meeting, which was pushed into a second day due to the volume of delegates who signed up to speak — largely against the funding hike — on Monday.
Ottawa city council still has to sign off on the final 2022 budget at its meeting on Dec. 8.
OPS had been hoping for a roughly $14-million increase but now sees its proposed budget trimmed an additional $2.65 million, past the roughly $5 million in savings the police brass say they identified on their own.
The reduced budget envelope came as the result of a motion from board members and Ottawa city councillors Rawlson King and Carol-Anne Meehan.
King said the motion tried to “strike that delicate balance” of giving enough funding to provide effective policing in the city but also show the board’s commitment to “reimagine” public safety.
Community groups, which sought to redirect police funding to other social services or, at minimum, hold the OPS budget to 2021 levels, said the two per cent budget increase is still too much.
“We are disappointed and frustrated by the decision as it highlights the lack of courage by the OPSB,” said Horizon Ottawa board member Sam Hersh in a statement.
Horizon Ottawa joined the Ottawa Black Diaspora Coalition in blocking off the Highway 417 on-ramp at Isabella and Metcalfe streets on Monday to protest the proposed budget hike, as well as in solidarity with We’suwet’en action in British Columbia.
Sloly came down hard against the reduced budget approval during Tuesday’s meeting, arguing that proposed new service delivery models, such as mental health or addiction crisis response teams, were not yet in place to offset the impact of such a reduced budget increase.
“This will be incredibly difficult to implement. There was already a significant amount of risk that was submitted to the board. … This increases the risk even more significantly,” he said, adding he will do “everything possible” to avoid job cuts.
OPSB chair Diane Deans said she would bring forward a motion at city council to redirect the funds saved by King and Meehan’s motion toward developing community-led mental health response teams.
Mayor Jim Watson told reporters Wednesday that he’d take the next few days to “thoroughly examine” the new budget scenario, but expressed concern about the impact that a reduced increase would have on policing in Ottawa.
He pushed back against the community groups calling for a budget freeze by saying that others in the community were calling for more, not less, police presence in the city.
“The public certainly are telling me — not the ones that go out to block roads or have rallies at city hall — the public that I talk to… they want to see a greater police presence in their neighbourhood, particularly for things like speed enforcement,” he said.