Edmonton police budget request balloons 25 per cent by 2022

The cost of public safety is on the rise, if the Edmonton Police Commission is accurately estimating its needs for the next four years.

Police looking to hire 100 new members, 24 specifically to deal with cannabis

An Edmonton City Police officer was dispatched to investigate the use of the Denver Boot in a south Edmonton parking lot. (Terry Reith/CBC News)

The cost of public safety in Edmonton could be on the rise.

The Edmonton Police Commission is asking the city of Edmonton for 25 per cent more in operating costs by 2022 than what it had for policing in 2018. That translates to an approximately $87 million budget boost.

The EPS operating budget this year is about $337 million; by 2022 the estimated spending budget jumps to $424 million. 

Acting Chief Kevin Brezinski was part of the police team making the request Thursday at city hall, on the first day council officially started debating the 2019-2022 operating and capital budgets.

Brezinski said calls for service have gone up over the past few years.

"Our members are actually really struggling to attend these calls," he told council. "It's demoralizing at times for our members to start a shift in southwest division for example, and have 30 calls on the board."

He said they spend most of their time responding to calls, when ideally they would like to spend 25 per cent of their time on proactive policing, such as visiting neighbourhoods and talking to residents.
Acting Chief Kevin Brezinski said delaying funding requests could impact public safety. (CBC)

Police say they need 72 new patrol officers and another 24 members hired specifically to deal with cannabis.

It will also cost EPS more to patrol land annexed from the County of Leduc.

Mayor Don Iveson said council will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to policing.

"It's the biggest cost, it's the hardest one to control, it's the most politically complicated because lives are at stake," he said.

"We haven't seen the full impacts of cannabis legalization yet."

Cannabis costs

Not everyone is convinced cannabis needs as much as attention as the police say.

Coun. Scott McKeen said he's skeptical that the amount of policing should increase because cannabis is now legalized.

"People who party-hardy are a fixed population," he said during the meeting. 

"Cannabis gets legalized, there's not suddenly a huge bubble, a huge increase in the number of people who party-hardy."

Deputy Chief Alan Murphy said there's a shortage of legal cannabis in the province — the Alberta Gaming Liquor and Cannabis Commission has been supplying a fifth of what stores have ordered.

Murphy argued that when edibles are permitted in 2019, police expect more people will ingest cannabis and many won't understand the potential result.  He anticipates that mixing alcohol and cannabis will be an issue.

But McKeen theorizes that the people who "party" won't increase because marijuana is legal.

"Some people won't go wild on anything."

McKeen pointed out that the police are already on the roads patrolling for drivers potentially impaired by alcohol.

Murphy said based on studies, the attitude still exists that it's OK to drive after smoking cannabis.

Since cannabis became legal on Oct. 17, the city has had 34 suspected impaired drivers from THC, compared to 11 in 2017.

Capital costs

Over and above the extra $87 million, police have several capital projects they want funded, including a new helicopter to replace Air Two, which has a mandatory retirement date of 2021.

It was a request that Coun. Ben Henderson wasn't expecting.
Mayor Don Iveson addresses police as council begins debating the 2019-2022 budgets at city hall. (CBC)

"It's a $6 million dollar hit and it caught me a bit by surprise," he said Thursday. "I'm struggling right now cause we were sitting here three years ago, we asked the question precisely."

He doesn't recall the police giving council a heads up that the chopper would have to be replaced.

Other capital requests are for a new police operations and intelligence command centre. 

The police commission business plan says the organization "lacks a real-time 24/7 capacity for operationalizing its intelligence."

"It's going to make us a state-of-the-art police service," Brezinski said.

A new firearms facility is estimated to cost more than $80 million. It's a resource Brezinski said the force has needed for a number of years.

Dangerous to defer

McKeen suggested some of the requests could wait until the new police chief takes over the helm in February.

"Knowing that the new chief is going to perhaps shift things, maybe even shift things dramatically, can we postpone some of your asks to the spring supplemental budget review?"

Brezinski said it would be dangerous to defer resources to the spring, specifically holding off on hiring new members.

Coun. Aaron Paquette questioned Brezinski's response. 

"Why would it be dangerous to bump a firearm training facility a few months?" he asked. 
Council is scheduled to debate the city's operating and capital budgets until Dec. 14.

"There are some big ticket items that aren't immediately essential that can be bumped a little bit so that we can get a little bit of input from the new chief."

Brezinski said some items have been needed for a couple years.

"Everything could be delayed, however, it comes with impacts. So for example, not resourcing the police service adequately comes at an expense to the public."

Council will continue to hear budget requests from agencies, boards and commissions over the next week.