Winnipeg police say they’ll need to find millions of dollars in savings next year to stay within the budget approved by the Winnipeg Police Board on Friday.
The city’s preliminary budget sets the 2022 budget for the Winnipeg Police Service at $320 million, an increase of $7 million from the year before.
But Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth says the service will need to spend $9 million less than what they estimated they will need to fund their operations.
This comes after the city approved $7.3 million in overspending for the police service this year — which is $6.1 million less than the police service had requested.
“We proved last year that we were able to find $6.1 million. We will look to do some of the same things that we did this year, next year. And we’ll do our best to try to meet those goals,” said Smyth.
To reduce the over expenditures by $6.1 million, police reduced overtime and left some positions vacant. They also made some extra money by providing security at COVID-19 vaccination sites.
Winnipeg police had originally requested $15 million in over expenditures, but the city finance committee told them to cut that down, first by $6.1 million, and then by a further $5.7 million.
During a tense meeting on Nov. 12, Smyth and members of the police board, including chair Coun. Markus Chambers, told the committee they could not meet the additional $5.7 million in cuts without risking frontline services.
After the board and Smyth pushed back, the finance committee agreed to approve $7.3 million in overspending.
This led the finance committee to pass a motion seeking greater powers to scrutinize police spending.
“I think that we’re pretty transparent with the reports that we put out,” Smyth said.
“One of the things that came out of that meeting … even the ridiculous [options], they wanted to see that. I didn’t really think they would want to see options that weren’t feasible.”
Chambers defended the police service’s efforts to reduce their spending.
“But we recognize at some point that it’s going to impact services to citizens if we don’t get it under control,” he said.
Increasing calls for service could complicate efforts to control overspending. The violent crime rate in Winnipeg rose by five per cent in 2020, and property crimes rose 11 per cent, according to a police presentation at the board meeting.
In the same year, calls for service from the public also rose 11 per cent.
Meanwhile, as the city grows, the number of police officers relative to the size of the population has been decreasing since at least 2014.
Police abolition advocates who spoke as delegates at the meeting criticized the city for increasing the police budget, which takes up the greatest proportion of the city’s spending.
James Wilt, representing the group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm, called for reducing the police budget by 10 per cent in 2022.
“Police spending in Winnipeg is completely out of control. The city has no plan to manage it,” he said.
An impending round of collective bargaining could complicate efforts to keep police spending under control. The contract with officers expires at the end of this year.
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