Edmonton police get $75M boost over four years

City councillors approved an extra $75 million in spending over four years for the Edmonton Police Service Wednesday, $12 million less than police asked for.

City council offers $12M less than police requested

The Edmonton Police Service plans to hire at least 100 new officers. (CBC)

City councillors approved an extra $75 million in spending over four years for the Edmonton Police Service Wednesday, $12 million less than police asked for.

The police budget for 2019 is set at $362 million, rising to $412 million by 2022.

Interim police chief Kevin Brezinski acknowledged city council has some tough budgeting decisions to make.

"We can work with it certainly," he said after the vote.

Brezinski said the approved budget still allows EPS to hire 101 new officers and it will look elsewhere to save money.

"Now we're just going to have to go back to the drawing board," he said. "We're going to go back and determine what our priorities are and we're going to have to rejig a few things but ultimately we'll be OK."

Mayor Don Iveson proposed the reduction as an amendment to the city's suggested $3-billion operating budget.

During the debate, councillors raised several issues related to policing.  
City council debates the operating budget every day this week. (CBC)

Councillor Mike Nickel wanted to know why the city has been slow to create a civilian dispatch service, estimated to cost less money than paying uniformed police members to handle calls for service.

Police have been transitioning to a civilian dispatch centre. There are still 29 uniformed members taking calls, but the goal is to phase in a fully-civilian dispatch within two years. 

Police said they need to hire 36 civilians to replace the members.

Nickel remembers talking about it in the early 2000s. 

"It is a bit of a stretch after 18 years of discussion of civilianization, that that is being brought up again."

Proactive vs reactive

Coun. Scott McKeen noted that a third of the police budget is used to deal with social disorder, including homelessness.

He wants all levels of government to be creative to help reduce the burden on police.

"We have opportunities with this budget to step up with investments in housing, investments in a program to work with our communities around housing."

Although she voted in favour of lowering the police request, Coun. Sarah Hamilton warned her colleagues during the debate that most Edmontonians don't want fewer police. 
 
"I know we're under a lot of pressure to find — to shake out the sofa cushions and to find money and look for efficiencies," she said. "But I have not yet received correspondence from anybody who was looking for less police presence in their community, who's looking for less of a focus on safety." 

Council has yet to decide how much more police are needed to deal with cannabis legalization. 

@natashariebe