Friday, July 22, 2005

Cops Ops Chop Flops

The Ottawa cops want an 8% increase in their budget this year. They got a big one last year, too, after an initially-recalcitrant city council found some extra money for them--parking ticket revenues. They're going to get this one as well.

Under Ontario law, city council can only accept or reject a police services budget in its entirety. In March of last year, city councillors voted to reject the budget as presented, and told the Police Services Board to cut it by $2.1 million. After not a little movement in the backrooms, it emerged that city bureaucrats has underestimated the revenue from parking tickets by a whopping $1.5 million. A relieved council, not really looking for a head-to-head with the likes of Police Chief Vincent Bevan, agreed to transfer this amount to the police budget. Voila! Problem solved.

Unfortunately, things were not looking so rosy by last Fall. In his operating status report submitted September 30, City Manager Kent Kirkpatrick reported that "By-law Enforcement is forecasting a $744,000 shortfall in revenues primarily from a decrease in the number of parking tickets being issued. It is possible that this situation may continue into the next year [2005] and it is being closely monitored."

The results of that "monitoring" seem to be everywhere evident, judging at least from anecdotal evidence in outraged letters to the editor. Parking control officers seem to be unduly attentive: most recently, they were seen handing out a huge wad of tickets to attendees of a regular neighbourhood event here, the Great Glebe Garage Sale.

In their recent presentation to a city council committee, the Police Services Board admitted that the chief concern of the public with respect to policing in Ottawa was--traffic safety. Detroit we’re not. Crime is actually decreasing. But policing in Ottawa, it seems, is to remain a growth industry nevertheless. City council initially told them to scale back their requested budget increase to 3%, the guideline for every other city department. Nuts to that, said OPS, and demanded 8%--down, admittedly, from the double-digit increase they had been initially mooting. City council, caving in at this point, just finished giving provisional approval for the hike.

Today’s Ottawa Citizen contains a little item of perhaps relevant interest: a man was cleared of break-in charges--52 of them, all relating to the same alleged offence--by a judge who slammed the police for "over-charging" the defendant. He insinuated in his judgement that some statistical inflation was going on, the sort of thing that leads to larger annual budgets.

Things are getting curiouser and curiouser. The city auditor has sided with the police and defended their budget, while a former Chief of Police wants to run for City Council to tighten it--and re-vamp the discredited public complaints process, too.

Meanwhile, pressure on municipal social services continues to rise. The homeless are everywhere, and the missions are bulging. Vacant-eyed kids stumble out of counselling centres, some of which have been closed because of budget cuts. User fees for a range of services are likely to be raised. But the public can rest assured that their concerns about traffic safety will be addressed--to the tune of $11.2 million more this coming year alone.

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