Saskatoon police find savings, but still need budget boost: Cooper

Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper says the service’s request for a $4.1-million budget increase is not a “wish list”; rather, it’s a reflection of what the service needs to be sustainable in a growing city that’s seeing an increasing number of calls related to guns, gangs, mental health and drugs.

Cooper told the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners Thursday that he wants a $94.6-million budget next year, which would amount to a five per cent increase over its 2018 budget of $90.5 million.

The board of police commissioners agreed that was appropriate. Cooper’s proposed police budget will now be considered by Saskatoon city council as part of city-wide budget discussions later this year.

The only budget item that speaks to increased costs associated with the legalization of marijuana is a request for $75,300 to hire a new crash analyst constable to address what Cooper expects will be an increase in impaired driving, similar to what has been seen in other jurisdictions where cannabis has been legalized.

“We want to make sure we’re prepared for that. The investigations that are resulting from impaired driving are complicating and require somebody who’s specialized,” Cooper said.

Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper in his office in Saskatoon on Oct. 5, 2018.

But he said policing costs related to legalized weed are going to be much more than the hiring of an additional staff member; he estimates the police will be out $500,000 between 2018 and 2019 to adapt to new cannabis legislation. This includes training costs and the loss of officer time when officers are in training.

“We’re tracking those costs (related to cannabis legalization) now, but they’re in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. That necessarily won’t be seen in the budget,” Cooper said.

The Saskatoon Police Service was the subject of a third-party review earlier this year that explored ways the service could police more creatively and efficiently to keep costs down.

Cooper said that review was “really critical” when it came time to develop a 2019 budget. Without it, the proposed 2019 police budget may have been higher.

One example of how the police service has used recommendations in that report to find savings is by requesting to hire two special constables to do patrol analysis, which lets the service make intelligent decisions about where and when officers are best deployed. In the past, these jobs have been done by sergeants, who are on a higher pay scale. Having two special constables, instead of two sergeants, in these roles will save the service roughly $100,000 a year.

Cooper also told the board that, as per the report’s recommendation to more strategically deploy officers, the police service has been bringing six officers in to work short overtime shifts on Friday and Saturday evenings from September to May to deal with calls. He said paying those officers overtime to patrol during those peak times when they are needed costs less than hiring a new officer.

In total, Cooper hopes to hire 10 new staff members in 2019 if his proposed budget is approved. In addition to the crash analyst constable and two patrol analyst special constables, he wants to bring on three new patrol constables, a special constable to work in the 911 centre, a junior access and privacy officer in the freedom of information and protection of privacy office and another clerk to work in the finance department.

The police expect to hire a new Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit officer next year, but this cost would be almost entirely covered by the provincial government.

ahill@postmedia.com
Twitter.com/MsAndreaHill

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