ELECTION 2018

CBC Ottawa explains: Can councillors curb crime?

Ottawa's violent crime rate is now almost on par with Toronto's, and municipal candidates are promising to keep this city safe from rising gang activity and gunplay. But what can they really do to turn the tide on a growing crime wave?

Ottawa police chief wants to hire 90 new officers in the next 3 years

Violent crime is on the rise in Ottawa, and many municipal election candidates are promising to do something about it. (CBC)

Ottawa's violent crime rate is now almost on par with Toronto's, and municipal candidates are promising to keep this city safe from rising gang activity and gunplay. But what can they really do to turn the tide on a growing crime wave?

Curbing crime is a tall order for city councillors, since police operate at an arm's length from city hall.

What they can control is how much money the force has to work with, which means the next council have have some tough decisions to make for the next budget.

Candidates who responded to CBC's survey questions were evenly split over whether police need more cash to keep Ottawa safe.

Here's what you need to know.

Violent crime, guns and gangs

So far this year there have been more than 60 shooting incidents, according to Ottawa police.

Last year, the violent crime rate jumped by a drastic 20 per cent, putting the capital almost on par with Toronto's violent crime. The rate of violent crime rose in almost every ward across the city.

In response, city council approved $660,000 to hire new officers who will be assigned to the guns and gangs unit and the direct action response team (DART), which monitors gang activity.

The police service has gone on a hiring spree this past term, and the chief wants to ramp that up after a new council is elected.

While there's no magic number of police officers, Ottawa has far fewer in proportion to our population than other major cities in Canada.

While the Ottawa Police Service has been restricted to two per cent budget increases over the last several years, the police service plans to ask for more than double that next year to support hiring new sworn members.

The plan is to hire 30 officers per year, which would require about $3.2 million per year. Couple that with other expenses to maintain the current level of service, and council will be looking at a four per cent increase to the police budget.

The new officers would be deployed in frontline and investigative roles to address violence against women, guns and gangs, frontline patrol, and ongoing staff shortages. Police also expect more demand for their service with the legalization of cannabis and the opioid crisis.

Most municipal candidates who argue against big spending on police argue the job can be done without shelling out extra cash, by focusing instead on how the money is used.

Calls for more community officers 

Last year police reduced the number of community officers from 15 to 10, leaving those remaining with larger swaths of the city to focus on.

Those officers are considered the public face of police in Ottawa's neighbourhoods, and several candidates believe bringing more of them back are part of the long-term solution to rising crime.

Rideau-Vanier ward has far and away the highest violent crime rate in the city. All candidates who responded to CBC's survey said police need to have a higher presence there, and not just when crimes happen.

The idea has the support of the co-chair of the police community equity council, Ketcia Peters. The council is designed to connect police with Ottawa's diverse communities.

Peters wants to see the entire police service embrace the community policing model as a means for preventing violent crimes before they happen.

In an ideal scenario, the community officers would know all the families in their assigned area and would interact with them regularly, she said. Those police officers could keep youth from falling into dangerous habits and connect them with other community services. 

"It's a strategy where you won't be able to measure the success overnight, but in the long term we know that it's worked," Peters said.

Chief Charles Bordeleau said the current model is working, and that patrol and community officers are working together to identify and solve crimes.

About the Author

Laura Osman

Reporter

Laura Osman is CBC Ottawa’s city hall reporter. You can contact her on Twitter at @LauraOsmanCBC or by email at Laura.Osman@cbc.ca.