Calgary police face 'impossible situation' with budget cuts, says commission chair

Calgary's police service, still reeling from last month's budget blow, says it's trimmed all the administrative fat that it can, so the next thing to go will be officers in the field.

Officers being asked to do more with less money, says head of civilian oversight group

Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen says the increased demand for police services in this economic downturn coupled with a $7-million budget cut have put the police service in 'an impossible situation.' (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

Calgary's police service, still reeling from a $7-million budget blow, says there will be fewer frontline officers if the organization is forced to deal with any further cuts.

The cut to police funding announced in July was part of a $60 million reduction across nearly every city department and service, approved by council in order to pay for a tax rollback granted to business property owners.

"Any further cuts from the province or from the city will have a significant effect and impact on actual police officers," said Calgary Police Commission chair Brian Thiessen.

The provincial government is withholding half of its funding for Calgary police until later this fall, and that money directly correlates to about 300 officers in a service of 2,800, Thiessen said.

If for some reason that money doesn't come through, the effects would be "catastrophic," he said.

"That would be the entire District 1, for example. It would have a catastrophic spill-down effect on the Calgary Police Service."

'An impossible situation'

Thiessen said officers are being asked to make headway on issues of gender diversity, the use of force and body-worn cameras, all with less money, and in the midst of an economic downturn that's put increasing demand on police services.

"Really, we're putting them in an impossible situation," Thiessen said.

With millions removed from their budget, Thiessen said CPS has completely cut their cadet auxiliary program, which was a source of hiring diversity.

Police Chief Mark Neufeld said the service will also delay new hiring, thin out its vehicle maintenance schedules and keep some police cruisers that would otherwise be retired.

Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld says 87% of the Calgary Police Service budget goes toward salaries and benefits. (Lucie Edwardson/CBC)

So far, most of the belt-tightening has been on the administrative as opposed to frontline side of things, he said.

"We're in a place now that we know that, if things keep going, we're going to have to start to do things that people are definitely going to feel," Neufeld said. "We don't want to go there."

Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer said the coming budget will be focused on acting responsibly to deliver on Alberta's priorities, and affirmed that policing is one of those.

"Obviously, we're in a time of restraint here in Alberta. We want to make sure that we provide our police forces with the tools and resources that they need to do their jobs," he said.

With files from Lucie Edwardson


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