Protection a priority: councillors

An RCMP request for nine more officers to patrol city streets, including a team of four to tackle downtown bar problems, seemed to capture a lot of city council support Wednesday night.
Several councillors made it clear that increasing police protection was a priority for them.
Councillor Diana Rowe said she’d had calls from residents alarmed at the crime seen in their neighbourhoods.
“They’re asking if we’re going to do something about policing.”
A resident also told her that they felt we were losing the city to crime. “I don’t think she’s alone on that,” said Rowe, who believes police should get their budget request.
Other communities across Canada are wrestling with similar problems, she said.
RCMP Supt. Jim Steele told council during budget deliberations Wednesday night that the force needs more officers because of the city’s growth.
If approved by city council, the city detachment would be boosted to 92 officers.
Adding the nine officers would cost $513,000 in 2014. That covers only half a year because of the time needed to bring them on staff. A full year would cost about $856,000.
Police are also requesting $145,500 to hire a stenographer, information records clerk and bylaw officer, and $29,700 for casual relief work.
The additions would boost the police budget paid by taxes from about $8.25 million to nearly $9 million.
This year’s request is part of an ambitious plan to dramatically increase the size of the force over the next three years.
A three-year business plan presented to council recommends hiring eight officers in 2014 and eight more in 2014. Four more civilians and two more bylaw officers would also be requested.
“I realize that over the next few years that is a big ticket item,” Steele said in an interview following his presentation to council.
Council may want to extend the amount of time the officers are added, he said.
“However we achieve the numbers, we need to have more police officers on the street.
“What I’m advocating is a sustained growth towards a target number.”
Steele said he was encouraged by council’s response.
The RCMP’s plan to have a team tackle the downtown was applauded by several councillors.
Steele said officers assigned to the group will do more than nab lawbreakers.
They will also meet with downtown businesses and do public awareness work and police work in other parts of the city, he added.
“We would focus them on several problems. But the efficiency of focusing them on a problem is that they can dedicate most of their time to making sure this gets done.”
Last year, officers did the work on a voluntary basis, but that had its problems.
“We saw on a sustained basis that members were burning out.”
There was also a rise in complaints against police, which was partly due to officers working too often, he said.
Councillor Jeffrey Dawson said police predict the city would need 150 officers by the time the population hit 100,000 in about 20 years.
Dawson suggested the city consider steadily increasing the police force each year — possibly by four officers a year.
Councillor Bev Hughes said he has had many calls on policing from the community and looks forward to seeing more officers.
Councillor Dennis Moffat noted the RCMP had laid out what is needed in the fight against crime and how much it will cost.
“The solution is pay it,” he said.
Councillor Larry Pimm said he believes policing is a high priority with council and expects RCMP will get a major boost.
“Whether that means every nickel they’ve asked for I’m not sure, but it will be a substantial increase I would imagine.”