Police spending: at a crisis point?

(Public Safety Building, Winnipeg)

Is police spending in Winnipeg reaching a crisis point?

That’s the question I had this morning when looking through the latest — however scant and vague — information available on city financial forecasts.

Quarterly Budget Forecast Document

Just weeks after the department’s nearly $224-million 2012 budget was adopted, the department is already forecasting a small deficit for the year of nearly $1.3 million.

“The Police Services department’s expenses are anticipated to be over budget due to overtime,” the explanation goes.

The current financial forecast indicates by the end of the year, WPS spending will cross the quarter-billion dollar mark.

I can fully accept that OT is necessary and unpredictable for most, if not all, organizations.

About 85 per cent of the overall WPS budget, however, already goes towards labour costs.

I get the sense something has to be amiss when I see despite the considerable — and ever-increasing — police budget, officers are going hat in hand to city committees for tiny cash grants to purchase mountain bikes to patrol on.

On May 22, The East-Kildonan-Transcona community committee approved a per-capita grant of $1,500 towards a patrol bike request (the service asked for $2,500).

Here’s the stated rationale for the ask:

The citizens of Winnipeg, specifically Transcona have contacted the Winnipeg Police Service on several occasions in regards to ongoing issues on the Transcona Trail. The Transcona Trail experiences a high volume of pedestrian/bicycle traffic through out the year with limited accessibility for emergency services. The ability for the Winnipeg Police Service to patrol the trail by bicycle will provide a visible police presence as well as a tool to assist police in apprehending offenders on the trail. Bicycle patrol also allows for a unique way for members of the Winnipeg Police Service to patrol the “Hi Neighbour” Festival, and escort parades in the Transcona area.

Monday, the Riel community committee will entertain, at the request of Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital), another $2,500 request for same.

Essentially, that request is the same as above (Mayes’s ward also encompasses, partially, the East District Station’s catchment).

I have no issue with bikes for police officers. In fact, I’d like to see more bike patrols on the street when seasonably appropriate.

In fact, I take absolutely no issue with paying police well to do what many would agree is a challenging, difficult and dangerous job.

But what I can’t help but question is this: How does it make any sense that with a $224-million dollar-plus budget, the service can’t find a measly $5,000 to buy simple mountain bikes and avoid the optics of forcing an officer to go begging to city councillors?

It doesn’t look good.

I’d like to say that I could offer more information on what’s causing the OT spike leading to the deficit forecast, but there’s virtually zero public disclosure when it comes to actual police spending.

My sources tell me, however, that the thirst for OT hours in recent times has been seemingly unquenchable.

It’s interesting: Many (I think) would agree that working OT is seen by many as a burden.

I don’t get that sense when it comes to police OT.

I get the distinct feeling it’s seen as opportunity.

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