Less crime means Winnipeg police OK with smaller budget increase

The Winnipeg Police Board has forwarded a recommendation to council's executive policy committee to increase spending for the police service by 1.77 per cent for 2015.
Mayor Brian Bowman and police Chief Devon Clunis held a press conference in January as an act of mutual support between the city and the Winnipeg Police Service.

While the Winnipeg Police Service proposed a modest $5 million increase to its 2015 operating budget on Tuesday, it will cease to see the annual budget boosts of old going forward, because Mayor Brian Bowman said they are no longer sustainable.

The Winnipeg Police Board appears to agree. It has forwarded a recommendation to council's executive policy committee to increase spending for the police service by 1.77 per cent for this year over last year.

That sets the operational budget for policing at $219,107,690.

Acting police chief Art Stannard told the board on Friday that crime rates have fallen recently and the service should be able to live with the modest increase.

"Crime was number one in the paper; front page news all the time. The budget was driven by crime a few years ago," Stannard said.

"This year, the last year, it was not. It's not by fluke. Hats off to everybody that lives in Winnipeg that is trying their best to address crime."

Stannard cautioned that Winnipeg still leads the country is some categories of crime and "we don't want to be number one."

He also warned that crime is a difficult thing to anticipate, but he said the police service is doing everything it can to deliver appropriate policing and live within its budget.

28% of city budget earmarked for police

The city's preliminary operating and capital budget of $994 million for 2015 was released Tuesday at the city's executive policy committee.

A total of 28 per cent of the total $1-billion city budget is earmarked for police. The $5-million increase is small compared to past years, and the WPS won't be seeing the kinds of yearly increases to its budget that it used to.

Bowman said what's different this year is the rate of escalation in the budget for police and its reduction.

"The costs have been growing and they aren't sustainable," the mayor said. "This year's budget finds a modest reduction in the increase but there still is an increase."

The mayor said the city doesn't suggest which areas of the department's budget should be targeted for cuts. But Bowman also said the department's pension plan eats up a large amount of its budget.

"The pensions and benefits are a huge piece of the cost, but right now they are things that are negotiated through collective agreements and have to be respected," said Bowman. "What we wanted was to see as much efficiency as possible. Our understanding is that police really stepped  up finding millions of dollars of efficiencies."

Bowman also commented on the recent police report that charted a dip in crime in the city.

"The rates of crime we're seeing are reducing and that's very positive," he said. "I just want to thank members of the police service who do such important work. They put their lives on the line and keep our community safe."

Morantz v. WPS

The small increase comes on the heels of a public spat between a Winnipeg councillor and members of the WPS less than two months ago.

In January, Coun. Marty Morantz, chair of the city's finance committee, asked to see the department's budget information. He went so far as to suggest the police service might be bloated with too many officers.

Stannard told Morantz that the WPS answers to the police board, not the finance committee.

The exchange drove a short-lived rift between the city and the WPS. Bowman and Chief Devon Clunis quickly resolved matters, capping it all off with a public announcement of support for the department from the city Jan. 12.

With files from the CBC's Sean Kavanagh


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