16 years of Winnipeg budgets show gains by police at expense of other city departments

Budget gains made by the Winnipeg police over the years have come at the expense of other city departments, leading on experts say the traditional funding model is unsustainable.

Police say years of tax freezes and growing expectations placed on officers are to blame

Two suspects are being sought by police after an elderly man was attacked and robbed in the Crescentwood area early Saturday. (CBC News)

The Winnipeg Police Services` share of the overall municipal budget has increased by nearly 60 per cent over the past decade and a half, a period during which crime rates in the city have been in sharp decline. 

Greater-than-inflation funding gains made by the police — and to a lesser degree, the fire department — have come at the expense of other city departments, and experts say the traditional funding model is unsustainable.

CBC News analyzed 16 years of operational budgets for the City of Winnipeg and found that the Winnipeg Police Service's slice of the budget pie jumped from 16.9 per cent of total expenditures in 2000 to nearly 27 per cent today — a proposed $280.7 million of a total civic budget of $1.05 billion.

Over the same period, the Fire Paramedic Service`s portion of the budget has followed a similar trend, however Public Works and all other departments combined had their share of the overall operational budget decrease by 10 per cent and 27 per cent respectively.

How big is each department`s slice of the budget pie?

% of total budget expenditures, 2000 % of total budget expenditures, 2016*
Police service 16.9% 26.6%
Fire paramedic service 12.4% 18.0%
Public works 22.8% 20.5%
All other departments 47.9% 34.9%

*Proposed budget

A further analysis of the proposed 2016 budgets for all the major Prairie cities shows that while the police budget accounts for nearly 27 per cent of the operational budget in Winnipeg, in Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary and Edmonton, proposed police expenditures consume less than 21 per cent of their budgets in all cases.

Brian Kelcey, former budget advisor to mayor Sam Katz, says the situation is unsustainable.

"You've got a situation where the police union and police managers have manoeuvred themselves into such a destructive position where their own increases are so unsustainable that an increase of three times inflation isn't enough," he said.
Last December, the Winnipeg Police purchased a $342,000 armoured vehicle without notifying the police board in advance. (Winnipeg police/Submitted)

"Other departments have caught on that as they've been trimming and in some cases even cutting services to try to maintain that budget balance, that few or if any questions are asked about whether the police service can get by with less real-estate, or fewer vehicles or better shift structures, or fewer helicopters or armoured cars."

Approximately 85 per cent of the total police budget is spent on salaries and benefits, the result of years of generous collective agreements settled through arbitration, said Kelcey. According to the latest compensation disclosure documents for city employees earning more than $50,000, the breakdown for police officer earnings (not including the civilian staff of over 400) is the following:

  • $100,000 or more: 996 officers
  • $90,000 to $99,999: 188 officers
  • $80,000 to $89,999: 50 officers
  • $70,000 to $79,999: 52 officers
  • Less than $70,000: 191 officers

Kelcey says that police brinkmanship — that is, indirectly implying public safety could be at risk as result of not agreeing to their funding requests — does nothing to advance solutions.

Internal police revenues offset portion of budget ask

In response to the CBC budget analysis, the Winnipeg Police Service has pointed out that in many years, it has actually under-spent its budget. In 2015, the department saw its smallest budget increase (1.9 per cent or $4.8 million) since 2004, and still managed to come under budget by $1.5 million.

"The same cannot be said for all city departments," the police service said in an email to CBC News.

Budget breakdown by department 2000 vs. 2016

Department 2000 budget 2016 budget* Change (%)
Police $114.7 million $280.7 million +145%
Fire paramedic $84.1 million $190.1 million +125%
Public works $154.4 million $215.5 million +40%
All other departments $324.5 million $367.7 million +13%

*Proposed budget

The department also pointed out that they have managed to reduce their share of property-tax revenues by generating ever-increasing internal revenues through both annual provincial grants of approximately $20 million and increased traffic citations and photo-enforcement.
Two police officers walking the streets of Winnipeg. (CBC News)

Over the past decade, police-generated revenues have climbed by close to 40 per cent, which could represent over $45 million for this year`s budget, offsetting a significant portion of the $280 million in expected expenditures.

In their written response, the police also pointed out that if other police forces in Western Canada consume a lesser proportion of their overall budget, it`s because the overall size of their budget is much larger due to significant increases in property taxes over the years, which cannot be said for Winnipeg which froze its property taxes for over a decade.

Downward crime statistics don`t show the whole picture

Since the early 2000s crime as a whole has been in sharp decline, well over 50 per cent according to police-reported statistics gathered by Statistics Canada. However the Winnipeg police said this decline is not a true indication of the situation on the ground.

"What is not often talked about is the fact that demand for police services has increased significantly in that time. Dispatched calls for service are up over 30 per cent with increasing calls for non-criminal matters like runaways, people in crisis, disturbances, noise complaints and people who are intoxicated or have addictions. Today, almost 80 per cent of what police do ... is not identified as traditional police work and is not represented in the crime statistics," wrote the police.

As an example, in 2014, officers dealt with over 11,000 calls related to intoxicated persons who were detained and transported to the Main Street Project. A police spokesperson said this cost 28,000 hours of staff hours, the equivalent of 19 full-time equivalent positions at a cost of $2.3 million.

"Right now the police provide a significant amount of resources providing assistance to people in mental health crisis. We believe these people could be better served by other social service providers, freeing up police officers to do other work."

Policing in need of a new 'business model': expert

The author of a 2014 study called "The Blue Line or the Bottom Line of Police Services in Canada" questions why police are increasingly engaging in non-traditional police work.
Christain Leuprecht has authored a study in which he criticizes the current policing model in use across North America, which he calls "unsustainable". (Courtesy: Christain Leuprecht)

"We have by and large a one-size-fits-all approach where we have a $100,000 highly specialized individual who can essentially do everything from community policing to riot control and I would suggest that we want to make sure we deploy that very high skill set and very highly paid skill set for those situations where we actually need that skill set," said Christian Leuprecht, an associate-professor at the Royal Military College of Canada.

"Do we need a $100,000-a-year police officer, for instance, to close a street for a parade? " he said. "Do we need that type of highly paid individual to do crime-scene investigations?"

The Winnipeg police has indicated that over the past year and half it has "civilianized a significant number of positions" in order to reduce staff costs.

"The police are doing a lot more. The public is expecting more of police. Policing has become much more complex. Accountability has become much more complex. Investigations have become much more complex. As a result it's become more time-consuming, more specialized. But what we need to do is have a much more nuanced approach to policing as a result," said Leuprecht.

"Whether you spend more or less on policing does not in and of itself affect the crime rate one way or another. Crime is a multivariate problem that has a whole number of different drivers," he said.

Police board says some costs out of police control

Winnipeg Police Board vice-chair Barry Tuckett says this year's shortfall comes because of increases in salaries for officers and rising costs associated with moving to the new police headquarters.

"Unfortunately the rising costs of the police service are in many cases outside the control of the service and the board. The public control the demand for service. The criminals control the level of criminal activity. Neither the service nor the board have control over the costs of salaries and benefits as council, through collective bargaining control these costs and pass them on to the police budget," he said.

City council will vote on the final version of the budget at a special council meeting Tuesday.


  • City of Winnipeg budgets: 2000 to 2016
  • Winnipeg Police annual report 2014
  • City of Winnipeg compensation disclosure statement;
  • Statistics Canada police-reported crime
  • 2016 budget documents for the cities of Regina, Saskatoon, Calgary, Edmonton

Analysis and calculations performed by Jacques Marcoux, CBC News.


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