All over the news today is the proposed 2012 budget for Waterloo Region Police Services. According to CTV Southwestern Ontario, the proposed budget has an $8.5 million dollar increase (8%) before a request to hire 62 new staff including 30 officers. Including staff, the proposed budget is $127 million and by itself would increase taxes for the Region of Waterloo by 1.65%.
After last year’s debate over the police budget I’m surprised to see such an ambitious budget proposed. I’m confident though that Tom Galloway, the police board chair who also oversees the regional budget, will make good on his commitment in the Record to get the police budget to an acceptable level.
Which brings me to the idea for the Region of Waterloo that I referred to in my post about violent crime hitting too close to home but I said deserved its own post. In that post, I made recommendations for how the federal and provincial government could address the root causes of crime. Here is my idea for the Region.
Time to make a decision
I think the time has come when the Region of Waterloo needs to decide if large annual increases to the police budget are sustainable.
Yes, the police require a substantial budget to do their job and to be effectively equipped. No question. Yes, policing needs to grow to serve the needs of a rapidly growing community. No question. Today’s budget request and last year’s budget debate though lead me to conclude that what the police believe they need is either more than they actually need or more than we can afford. Either way, we’ve reached a decision point.
We need to make a choice if we are going to continue to invest increasingly large sums in law enforcement OR if we are going to invest in crime prevention.
Now I can hear some of you thinking that part of the role of the police is crime prevention. Again, no question about it. On the other hand, a new staffing model was introduced by the police about a year ago to put more officers on the street and spread them evenly around the region. Changes that I agree with. Unfortunately though, the officers put on the street came mostly from tasks that were designed to prevent crime.
How to invest in crime prevention
My proposal is:
1) that the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council receives a budget increase equivalent to or greater than any increase to the Waterloo Region Police Services budget up to the annual rate of inflation.
2) that any increase in the police budget in excess of the annual rate of inflation is matched dollar for dollar with an investment in a new organization to be known as the Waterloo Region Smart on Crime Foundation.
I would see the foundation dispersing the funds to initiatives that address the root causes of crime. While this could include the police services, I would see the funds mainly going to collaborative programs run under the umbrella of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council or by any other social profit sector organization that has an initiative consistent with a smart on crime approach as outlined by the council.
I haven’t researched whether the foundation could be formed and funded by the Region. If it can’t, I think the spirit of the proposal could be done within programs and services offered by the Region.
I think that this proposal would slowly start to tip our investment from law enforcement to crime prevention without undermining the ability of the police to carry out their mandate. Over time, the additional investment in measures that are smart on crime should ease the pressure to increase the budget for enforcement. A community that addresses the root causes of crime would not have the same needs for policing. In fact, in a best case scenario, that community’s police services should find it easier to allocate more funds in their own budget to crime prevention work.
I pride myself on pragmatic solutions. So is this proposal realistic? I’d like to think that it is. But maybe not. Even if what I’ve outlined isn’t possible, I believe that the philosophical direction is–and that we’ve reached a point where the Region of Waterloo should make a conscious increase in our investment in being smart on crime.
While I am on the community relations committee of the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council, this proposal is 100% my own. In fact, you may be reading this post before anyone who is on the Council or works for it has read it.
What do you think?
Do you like this proposal? Is it a pragmatic approach to law enforcement and crime prevention? Is it at least a philosophical shift that we need to make?
What would you propose?