Each year, City Council adopts a budget proposed by Regina Police Service (RPS) without sufficient discussion or analysis about how we can do better. As a valued and admired force in our community, RPS does deserve our strong support. But here is why I cannot vote in favour of its proposed budget tomorrow.
Money. This year, we face a 3.1% increase proposed by RPS. Despite being one of the lowest percentage increases in a decade, it still amounts to over $3 million in new spending at a time when the City is still suffering from the effects of the 2017 provincial budget. Adding the purchase of the STC building ($12 million) and capital expenditures ($4.9 million) to the $87 million operational costs, taxpayers will be spending over $100 million on the City’s police force in 2018. Yes, these costs are offset by $9.8 million in revenue from a variety of sources which help to pay for new positions and other expenses within the RPS. My concern is with the sustainability of this rate of spending and the consequences of emptying funds from our Asset Revitalization Reserve. That’s money the City no longer has at its disposal to invest in infrastructure like parks, recreational facilities, and community pools. Furthermore, many departments within the City have been forced to find efficiencies, reduce expenditures, endure a hiring freeze, and end out of province conference travel. Those rules are not applied evenly when it comes to the RPS. As residents demand improvements to and expanded services, just as they expect a safe community in which to live, should we not be investing heavily in these areas as well?
Strategy. We need to have a conversation about how the RPS budget fits into a broader community strategy on public safety and the determinants of crime in our neighbourhoods. These issues can’t be addressed by the police alone. In the five years since our Official Community Plan (OCP) was launched after extensive engagement with residents and businesses, many local stakeholders have fresh ideas about public safety. The time is ripe to discuss a more collaborative approach between the City and RPS on what our focus for community safety should be and cost.
Complexity. Indeed, the City is well served by capable officers and the exceptional leadership of Chief Evan Bray. But we shoulder RPS with the responsibility to deal with complex issues while we fail to invest adequate resources to assist that work. My objection is that we do not support RPS through strategic investments in support structures and programming that tackle the root causes of crime. Imagine the potential when organizations like White Pony Lodge, All Nations Healin’ Thru Artz, and similar grassroots initiatives are actively integrated into a community strategy on public safety with $3 million of new money invested annually into the critical services they provide.
Leadership. We, as a City, play the lead role in creating the community envisioned in the City mandate and OCP. Regina will be a safer and more thriving place with a community-focused public safety strategy of which RPS is a crucial part. I will be working to explore this approach and invite anyone who agrees to support it.