Rideau Street merchants call for more foot patrols as police budget OK'd

Delegates asked police to focus on downtown crime and road safety as Ottawa's police chief says the service is going borrowing money to keep budget increase below the two-per-cent limit on extra spending outlined by council.

Downtown Rideau BIA says merchants feel less safe after end of 'community policing' model

Peggy DuCharme, executive director of the Downtown Rideau BIA, says policing has always been an issue, but the need for foot patrols became apparent to merchants and business owners this summer. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Downtown business owners urged Ottawa police to increase foot patrols on Rideau Street as the police board approved a budget for 2018 that will borrow money to keep the increase in spending below the two-per-cent limit outlined by council.

Peggy DuCharme, executive director of the Downtown Rideau BIA, collected testimonials from businesses including Nordstrom, Giant Tiger on George Street, Avant-Garde Bar and the Ottawa-Gatineau Hotel Association.

The BIA, which covers the Rideau between Elgin Street and Montreal Road, has noted an increase in pan handling and petty crime since Ottawa police changed how they deploy front-line officers in January, according to DuCharme.

"Very brazen, like we're seeing people walk into businesses and steal employee's cellphones right out from underneath them while they're dealing with customers at the cashier," DuCharme said. "We're seeing people walk into retail and take arms full of merchandise brazenly and run to exit." 

The submission also noted customers may be scared away by reports of crime. Businesses are calling for an increase in foot patrols and they question the move away from the community policing model, DuCharme said.

Can't afford an officer on every corner

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau was asked about DuCharme's submission and said there has been an increase in crime citywide, but that a review has found no conclusive link between the change in the police service model and that increase.

Supt. Joan McKenna of Ottawa police community relations and frontline specialized support said police are engaging with the community to deploy officers effectively.

Ottawa police Supt. Joan McKenna says she's been meeting with Rideau Street businesses and Lowertown residents to help address problem areas in the community. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"The areas that have been identified by the community as causing problems, that's where we spend most of our proactive time," she said. "We cannot afford to have a police officer on every corner so it's how can we work these issues out together."

Ottawa police have added online complaints to address a variety of issues, and bicycle officers and school resource officers join regular foot patrols during the summer, she added.

"We can move our resources based on demand," McKenna said, pointing to the management of Canada 150 events and the Grey Cup as examples of responding to demand.

Budget maintains 2% cap

Bordeleau said the budget includes larger envelopes to address financial risk such as overtime, workplace safety and long-term disability insurance, as well as liability claims.

Increases to those items were funded by taking $3.9 million out of a "pay as you go" contribution to the facilities strategic reserve fund. Bordeleau said police are also borrowing to pay for some capital projects.

"We're increasing the percentage of debt that we're used to, but it's well within the city guidelines," Bordeleau said. "The budget achieves the two-per-cent target. It maintains the services that we're currently providing to our residents and it continues the three-year hiring plan of 75 officers for this year."

Bordeleau added the budget does forecast higher increases — ranging from 3.5 to 4.1 per cent — in the next three years.

Chief Charles Bordeleau says Ottawa police have respected council's two-per-cent cap on budget increases this year, but it may be difficult to hold the limit. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

He also identified the legalization of cannabis as a possible source of budget pain in the future. The 2018 budget sets aside half a million dollars to train and equip officers to enforce the new rules around marijuana.

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the police board, said the chief must do more to justify both overtime costs and increased hiring, especially if he believes the service needs to break the two-per-cent cap.