'Something needs to give': Waterloo regional police call for new hires in draft budget
The Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) wants to hire as many as 55 new full-time equivalent (FTE) officers to meet increasing enforcement challenges in a quickly-growing community.
On Tuesday, the 2022 draft budget was presented to the Police Services Board, outlining five scenarios which include options to hire between 25 new officers at an additional cost of $17.078 million or 55 new officers at an additional cost of $21.578 million.
“It’s the volume of work. We simply cannot keep up with the volume so, something needs to give,” said Bryan Larkin, Chief of Police of the WRPS. “Our frontline continues to deal with significant heavy demands.”
One option outlines zero expansion to the WRPS compliment of officers would still see the $185.3 million approved budget in 2021 jump to $198.715 million in 2022.
Larkin points to the increasing complexity of severity of crime in the region as key reasons the service is requesting additional officers.
In the report to the board, Statistics Canada figures show Waterloo Region sits fourth in the Crime Severity Index among the 12 largest communities in Ontario with a 74.5 index rating in 2020. The median is 58 across those municipalities.
The report also notes violent crime in Waterloo Region rose by three per cent and is the second highest among the 12 largest municipalities in the province.
Larkin adds the challenges don’t exist solely in the region’s large urban centres like Kitchener or Waterloo, but also in rural areas like Wellesley and Baden.
“If we don’t get a handle on it, then we simply, we’re always playing catch-up,” said Larkin. “We cannot keep up. I mean that sincerely. Our members are just, they’re stretched and so something has to give.”
The report points to increased complexity of calls and investigations for reducing staff capacity to respond to overall community needs.
“We need a refresh as a region on crime reduction, on crime strategies,” said Larkin.
The rate of police officers per 100,000 in Waterloo Region is below the national average of 183, provincial average of 174 and the 12 largest municipalities’ average of 144 as of 2019.
Waterloo Region sits at 131. Hiring an additional 55 FTE officers would bring the ratio to 145 in the region.
“The business is evolving and changing and that’s not a complaint,” said Larkin. “I think society has become much more sophisticated and with that, policing needs to become much more sophisticated.”
While Larkin said new recruits have never been more educated or qualified, he says the growing population in the region is outstripping the ability for police to manage the demand for service.
Region of Waterloo data shows the population has reached 630,900 in 2020, up 16 per cent from a population of 543,900 in 2010.
Larkin said officers are getting better at their jobs in dealing with various crimes but says without further investment – the service will always be playing catch-up on serious issues, pointing to the intimate partner violence as one example.
“We have a world class approach to how we actually respond to intimate partner violence but, we’ve never been able to reduce it,” said Larkin. “So, we still have more than 5,000 reported cases a year of intimate partner violence in our region and we’re very good at responding, we’re very good at managing it but, how do we get proactive?”
The report to the board notes without investment in the service, initiatives like Electronic Digital Evidence Management, race-based data collection and body-worn and in-car video would cease.
A tentative budget presentation is set for Nov. 29 to Region of Waterloo council. Final approval is expected on Dec. 15.
A 2018 review of policing services by WRPS called for 147 FTE positions be added to meet increasing demand for service.
There have been a total of 47 FTE positions added since, leaving a 100 FTE shortfall.
Responding to a CTV News question, Larkin said requesting the full complement of officers was not realistic.
“We would not be able to do that in a year with our current capacity,” said Larkin. “One; we would not be able to recruit. Two; we would not be able to train, there’s no guarantee of allocation and from a fiscal perspective. I want to make sure whatever we’re doing doesn’t impact other regional programs.”
The report to the board indicates adding 100 FTE would increase the operating budget in 2022 by 15.28 per cent to $215.715 million.