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Calgary police, council start to hash out 2021 CPS budget

The Calgary Police Service (CPS) said that they support the work being done around alternative call models, but reallocations will have an impact on policing in the city.  

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld and Calgary Police Commission (CPC) Chair Bonita Croft answered councillor questions on their $400 million annual budget. Earlier this month, the CPC and the CPS made a budget submission showing the reduction or reallocation of $40 million.

Earlier this week, public submissions were heard and the bulk of them were tied to Calgary police funding.  

Chair Croft said the adjustments they’ve proposed balance that recognizes budget challenges at the city and still improves CPS relationships with communities. It also avoids reducing services that Calgarians value, and ensures employees have access to training and support they need.

“Of course, this proposal doesn’t does not come without impact,” Croft said.

She added that the reallocation of $10 million in CPS budget to look at alternative call response models was a unique opportunity.

“This is an opportunity to be innovative, to explore longer term service delivery options that can better serve Calgarians, and at the same time reduce the workload for police,” she said.

Chief Mark Neufeld also supported the planned reallocation. However, it had to show a direct correlation with reduced demand on Calgary police officers.

“Our submission contains clear requirement for any reallocated monies to be tied to the reduction of demand and calls for service to CPS in the short term,” Chief Neufeld said.

“It’s a very important point for us, it’s safe to say that the issue of excessive demand on our officers has been on our radar for some time.”

A line of questioning from Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart also demonstrated their part in 26 community partnership. Many of those provide social solutions.

Lack of 24/7, 365-day response

Chief Neufeld said that they’ve heard “loud and clear” from various groups and even officers that there are calls that Calgary police should not be attending.

He said that by working with partners they feel as though they can achieve positive outcomes. Right now, they’re responding to 270 calls per day around safety and well being. They hit 24 calls per day for suicides or to execute mental health warrants.

“Over the years, we’ve become the default first responder for a variety of social issues given the lack of alternatives for a 24/7 response,” said Chief Neufeld.

“In the vast majority of these cases, our members do a great job. But we know there may be approaches that could result in improved outcomes for citizen in crisis, as well as reducing demands on CPS.”

The city also heard Wednesday about the structure of the newly proposed community safety framework. This is where reallocated money would be diverted.

A case-study from Eugene, Oregon was cited that saw 24,000 alternate calls that only needed police support in 150 cases. City of Calgary Community Services GM Katie Black said they saw an annual savings of $8.5 million as a result.

Impact of budget changes

Chief Neufeld said they fully support the plans to divert funding to other areas. That, along with potential budget cuts does, however, come with an impact.

First, the $10 million cut for 60 new CPS recruits doesn’t allow them to cover attrition. That’s typically around 70 sworn members per year, Chief Neufeld said. With changes to the city’s retirement allowance, that number could jump another 25 to 30, he added. 

With that, they’ll have to manage vacancies in specialized investigation units like homicide or sex crimes, so they can keep officers on the front lines. He said they’d be doing that at a time when crime has been increasing.

Coun. Ward Sutherland brought up later that hiring isn’t a one-or-three month process.

“It’s a two-year-process,” he said, due to the amount of training police receive.

Chief Neufeld said they had to make other difficult decisions on what they couldn’t do in 2021.

“This includes reducing the allocation of funds toward a body worn video project. And that could reduce the ability for us to provide timely video evidence to the courts in relation to investigations,” he said.

It could also impact the availability of mandatory training and non-mandatory training. He believed that would affect the level of expertise on the police force.

“Now be assured that police response to major incidents disasters and serious crimes will always be addressed,” he said.

“But this will result in less flexibility for ongoing management of day-to-day investigations, and other exigencies.”

Councillor questions, amendments

The question of a line-by-line budget came up a handful of times during the questioning. Members of the CPC said that they wanted to strike a balance in what’s provided to both council and the public.

Because of the amount of information, the CPC said that it wouldn’t help anyone to have the line-by-line. It could be confusing.

Coun. Evan Woolley asked if there was anything in Alberta’s Police Act that would prevent them from providing it. Nothing prevented them from doing it.  The CPC said that they would be looking at how they could provide more information on expenditures to the public and city council.

Calgary city councillors had several other questions – on hiring, citizen satisfaction, on community policing, support for the new measures – and on CPS support for the reallocation.

Amendments were made by councillors, including keeping the $8 million in the Calgary police budget for the current community programs they’re participating in.

Another amendment clarified a technical note on one-time funding versus base budget funding.

Coun. Jeff Davison suggested that there needs to be a provincial part in this. CPS is dealing with a vast number of health-related calls and the province should be providing funding.

Coun. Joe Magliocca submitted an amendment to fund the full $10 million for the 60 recruits.

Mayor Nenshi clarified with Coun. Magliocca if he’d like that to be funded by adding to the tax base.

Magliocca replied, “tax base.”

Amendments will be hashed out Thursday.

It’s expected that other amendments will be brought forward for the entire budget Thursday. A final 2021 budget should also be approved Thursday.