Deputy mayor pitches plan to reinvest savings from pared-down police pensions

Winnipeg's deputy mayor will be proposing a motion this week that could redirect pension savings to prevent staffing cuts at the Winnipeg Police Service.

Proposal will return $14.7 million over 4 years to police budget, save almost 60 front-line positions

Winnipeg police investigate the scene of a double homicide on Ross Avenue in October. With the recent spike in violent crime, Winnipeg's elected officials are scrambling to ensure the city doesn't lose front-line police resources. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Winnipeg's deputy mayor will be proposing a motion this week that could redirect pension savings to prevent staffing cuts at the Winnipeg Police Service.

At Thursday's council session, Markus Chambers says he will propose to return $14.7 million over a four-year period to the police budget to help meet their expenditure targets. This would reflect the estimated costs of 34 sworn officers and 25 cadets over the next four years.

The money would come from changes to the police pension plan proposed earlier this month. Under that proposal, the city would save $12 million annually in pension costs, of which $1.5 million is already earmarked to be returned to the police budget.

"If the motion to adjust the police pension is passed by council, it's a saving over the next four years of just over $40 million," Chambers told CBC Up To Speed host Ismaila Alfa.

"What we'll be able to do is redirect some of those saving into frontline policing."

Chambers, who is on the police board, says citizens have expressed concern with the possibility of police officers losing their jobs, given the rise in crime and the homicide rate. On top of that, police have been vocal about higher call volumes, and said they have reassigned 74 officers to respond to urgent calls.

Deputy mayor Markus Chambers wants savings from changes to Winnipeg's police pension plan to be reinvested into staffing. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

"The situation is very bleak right now," Chambers said. "The city is facing some really tough numbers in terms of a variety of different services. With the current situation that the city finds itself in … it's something we have to address right away."

In speaking with members of the WPS, Chambers said some hold the view that their pension plan is unsustainable and there may be room to discuss amendments.

The police union does not appear to hold that viewpoint, however, as it has stated it will take the city to arbitration.

Winnipeg mayor Brian Bowman weighed in on the matter with reporters after attending Tuesday's throne speech, and he did not hold back punches.

"This is a union that is very good at asking for more money. They're not good at providing alternates and efficiencies, to make sure that we're delivering better value for the taxpayers we serve," Bowman said.

"I've been told for many years, long before I was elected mayor, that the police pension was unsustainable. Well, council has the opportunity now to make some changes."

Bowman is urging the other members of council to not shy away from making a difficult decision to protect police officer jobs.

"What council will ultimately have to decide is whether they want those dollars in unsustainable pensions, or do they want to protect front-line police officer positions."

Despite being the one proposing the motion, Chambers said he's struggled with the situation because he has friends — and in some cases, their children — who are on the police force and nearing retirement. But ultimately, he says it all comes down to making sure chief of police Danny Smyth has the resources he needs on the front lines.

"Something's got to be done," Chambers said. "We can't leave anything off the table."


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