Nova Scotia

CBRM hiring consultant to look into reducing police costs

Cape Breton Regional Municipality has issued a tender looking for a consultant to examine various aspects of the police force, including the organizational structure, shift schedules, overtime and having civilians take over some police duties.

Officials say review is not strictly about defunding police, but that will likely be part of the study

The review that will look at how to cut down on policing costs in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality is expected to cost no more than $100,000. (George Mortimer/CBC)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality has issued a tender for a study on how to cut its policing costs, but officials say the review is about finding efficiencies and it started long before defunding police became a popular rallying cry.

It was recommended in last fall's viability study done by Grant Thornton that said, among other things, that CBRM has more police officers than most other Canadian jurisdictions.

Chief administrative officer Marie Walsh said the community's low crime rate is a result of having higher police staffing.

"There is a balance because people feel safe in our community and it brings people to the community, but we are a little bit high on average [compared] to other communities," she said.

The viability study said CBRM has 200 police officers with a population of only 93,000. It said Halifax Regional Municipality has 175 per 100,000 population, while the national average is 188 per 100,000.

The municipality issued a tender looking for a consultant to examine various aspects of the force, the organizational structure, shift schedules, overtime and having civilians take over some police duties.

CBRM chief administrative officer Marie Walsh says a design/build contract could cost $3.2 million, so funding partners will be necessary. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Walsh said civilianization wouldn't necessarily reduce staffing numbers, but it could lower costs.

"There's binding arbitration with the police and the increases have been more significant than the other unions at CBRM," she said.

For the last number of years, all policing cost increases have been due to staffing, Walsh said.

"We really haven't had increases for police around line items for operations, but the only thing really increasing at a rapid rate would be on the wage side," she said.

The review is intended to find efficiencies, she said, but as recommended in the viability study, cuts should not be so deep that they affect the low crime rate.

Review not motivated by calls to defund police

"We will be very cautious not to affect service delivery, because we have been very effective in terms of our police force and it has paid off in the crime rate," Walsh said.

The CAO said she wouldn't equate the review with recent calls to defund police.

"Is there a better way to do business?" she said.

"Are we paying police officers to do things that really should not be under their job description? And I think we need to have a close look at what they're doing and where are their resources best spent."

Acting police Chief Robert Walsh said he welcomes the review.

He said having civilians take over some duties can make policing more efficient, but overall staff numbers shouldn't be reduced because someone has to do the work.

Acting Chief Robert Walsh says it's a misconception that CBRM has a higher ratio of police officers than other Canadian jurisdictions. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"Police currently are the only 24/7 agency available to respond to people in crisis, so there is absolutely a need to continue to fund properly-trained police officers to de-escalate those situations appropriately and safely," he said.

The Cape Breton force recently civilianized positions in records management and criminal analysis. Delivering court summonses and forensic examination of computers are examples of other duties that could be civilianized, the acting chief said.

He also said the viability study's conclusion about staffing levels has been misconstrued.

The ratio of 200 officers to 93,000 population is equal to about 215 officers per 100,000, which is far above the national average.

Some officers subsidized

However, the acting chief said, CBRM only fully funds 167 officers. The others are funded at least in part by outside agencies, such as the provincial departments of education and justice and the Membertou First Nation.

That makes the ratio about 180 per 100,000.

"I don't think that we are overpoliced," the acting chief said.

The extra officers help CBRM maintain service expectations, he said.

Defunding may come up

People calling for defunding of police say some duties, such as social work, should be done by people with appropriate training.

The acting chief said some of that may come up in the review.

"I think that the review is primarily focused on trying to find efficiencies, but the defunding will likely be a consideration in the operational review," he said.

"I'm confident that whatever consultant is retained to conduct the review will have appropriate police background and expertise to understand those larger contextual issues that affect the profession."

NSGEU president Jason MacLean says morale among Cape Breton police officers was at rock bottom two years ago, but it is improving with increasing support from management. (Paul Poirier/CBC)

Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union that represents CBRM police, said his members are not happy with the acting chief's plan to civilianize some officer duties.

"This is a surprise," he said. "There's been no actual consultation with the union and for the acting chief to go on and talk about changing the complement or even just to go on about a change of this sort, we really think it's irresponsible of him."

Walsh said the review will include input from municipal staff and politicians, as well as employees of the police department and other stakeholders.

MacLean said that's good to hear, as long as the discussions don't include layoffs.

"The NSGEU members of Local 1995, they're always open to talking about how policing can be improved," he said.

"We believe that the only way to have full consultation is to have the people that are delivering the service involved with it."

CBRM's policing tender closes on Thursday and is expected to cost no more than $100,000.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for more than 30 years. He has spent the last 17 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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