North Dumfries Mayor Rob Deutschmann wants to give the Waterloo Region Police Services an additional $500,ooo on top of the expected 7.3% increase.
I should note here that I’ve known the good mayor for most of my life as we attended St. Jerome’s High School together and were politically active together.
But I must disagree with Deutschmann on this proposal. As I shared a year ago with Chief Torigian, the 7.3% increase (about $12 million) would be enough to double the budgets of many well known charities in Waterloo Region. In fact, it could double a group of a half dozen or so charities. I deliberately make that comparison because many of our local charities are doing work that prevents crime and reduces the workload of the police. An investment in a safe community is necessary but increases to the police budget of 7.3% or more are unsustainable.
It’s time to invest in a smart on crime approach for a larger return on our investment. Let’s put regional dollars to work addressing the root causes to crime by investing regional taxes in creating a Waterloo Region Smart on Crime Foundation that can help fund projects helping to address the root causes of crime–and reduce the need for enforcement.
But we have a growing population!
I need to specifically address one quote from Deutschmann:
“Waterloo Region continues to grow — we hear that argument when we’re talking about LRT, installing roundabouts.
“I felt that (the police budget) was going in the wrong direction.”
There’s a reason we don’t talk about a growing population when we talk about the police budget. It’s not a factor since we are well served for a community our size.
Call volumes increasing faster than population
As Chief Torigian and Police Board Chair Tom Galloway have told me, a greater problem is that calls for police are increasing at a rate higher than our population growth. That’s why I have called for greater promotion of the 211 service so that people know can find the most appropriate source of help.
Mobile mental health teams save policing costs
It is also why I welcomed a program funded by the Waterloo-Wellington Local Health Integration Network to establish mobile response teams to help people having a mental health crisis. I have suggested that police are not always the best people to respond to certain calls. Last year this program could have meant 2300 calls were handled by trained mental health professionals without tying up an officer for an average of 104 minutes per call. Instead people get the help they need quicker and with fewer demands on emergency health services. We save money on policing and health care while getting a better result for the people involved!
Salaries a pressure on police budget
Salaries are another factor in the large annual increases to the police budget. There are no quick or easy solutions to this situation so I won’t delve into it in any detail here. I just want to point out that we’re already having difficulty affording the number of officers that we have.
We need to shift our thinking
Rather than adding officers or increasing the police budget, we need to look at how we can use existing resources better (as has happened with the mobile mental health teams), reduce demand by helping people call the best responders first (in part by promoting 211) and prevent crime through addressing the root causes of crime such as by creating a Waterloo Region Smart on Crime Foundation.
I expect Mayor Deutschmann’s proposal is a response to changes in rural policing since the hours for two detachments in rural Waterloo Region are being decreased. But the police believe that having a superintendent in a car on rural roads and having detachment hours on evenings and weekends is a better use of resources. I agree and believe that this is exactly the type of restructuring of how best to use existing resources that I am calling for in this post. I can understand the concern over the change since the detachments are a visible sign of living in a safe, protected community. But so is another cruiser on the roads. Here our police have found a great compromise that meets the needs of rural citizens who need to visit a police station and provide more effective service.
Inreach gaining support
The successful gang prevention program called InReach deserves funding because it is an excellent example of Waterloo Region’s Smart on Crime approach.
I am pleased that Deutschmann believes that it deserves regional funding for a year while it seeks to avoid closing due to a cut to its funding by the federal government. His approach of looking for cuts in other parts of the regional budget is a sound approach. But I personally don’t agree with several of his proposed cuts.
I do like Finance Chair Tom Galloway’s proposal to save the program by providing a one year $450,000 grant from the region’s hospital reserve fund. I love this kind of creative thinking that proves that when there is a will, there is a way. I am confident that keeping this program alive will reduce future demands to fund local hospitals by reducing trips to emergency rooms and the need for drug and alcohol addictions and mental health issues.
In the future, I’d suggest that this sort of funding could come from the Waterloo Region Smart on Crime Foundation.
Looking for more ideas on investing to prevent crime? See my previous post on the need for the Region of Waterloo to budget to help people living in poverty.