Region to host public feedback meeting on 2021 police budget

Waterloo regional police are asking for a 2021 operating budget of $185 million, an increase of almost three per cent from last year’s budget of $180 million. Anyone who wants to weigh in can do so at a virtual public meeting Thursday night.

Police asking for operating budget of $185 million, up from $180 million last year

The Region of Waterloo is hosting a public feedback meeting about the 2021 police budget the evening of Jan. 14. (Colin Butler/CBC)

People living in the Region of Waterloo will have a chance to weigh in on the 2021 regional police budget at a virtual feedback meeting Thursday evening.

Waterloo regional police are asking for a 2021 operating budget of $185 million, an increase of almost three per cent from last year's budget of $180 million.

Regional council is set to approve the region's final budget – including the 2021 police budget – next week.  

Meanwhile, the group Reallocate WR is pushing council to send the current budget back to the police services board for another trim.

The group wants police to commit to a funding increase of 0 per cent, and for the difference in funding to be put towards Black and Indigenous-led community programs.

"I'm hoping the Region of Waterloo takes a leadership approach on this, as they've done on other issues, and they listen to all of the individuals who've been calling for this," said Aleksandra Szarsflarska, a member of Reallocate WR.

Szarsflarska said the group also wants the region to pilot a "police-free public safety model" for a period of six months.

'Can't reduce any further' says chief

Speaking at a budget committee meeting Tuesday, regional Coun. Tom Galloway said the Toronto Police Service asked for a budget increase of 0 per cent over 2020. He asked Chief Bryan Larkin why Waterloo regional police didn't do the same.

Larkin said that would mean creating 40 vacancies in front-line positions, which would affect the service's ability to provide adequate policing.

"As your Chief of Police, I simply cannot reduce the budget any further without impacting the level of safety of my members," said Larkin.

In a release, the Toronto Police Service said achieving a flat 0 per cent increase meant the service "absorb[ed] $46 million in budget pressures," which translated into 50 fewer officers and 90 fewer civilian positions.

Wilmot Township Mayor and regional Coun. Sue Foxton said during Tuesday's budget meeting that people in her part of the region want more police presence, not less.  

"We want them to be visible, we want them to be present," said Foxton.

"And you know what, folks, nothing comes cheap today, especially if we want true, educated, strong individuals that also have the skills of compassion and understanding, which is exactly what I think our police are attempting to do."  

The public meeting on the police budget will begin Jan. 14 at 7 p.m. Anyone who wishes to speak is asked to register in advance on the region's website.

Final budget approval in the Region of Waterloo is set for Jan. 20.