In February, the Region of Waterloo Council approved the Waterloo Regional Police Services Budget. The WRPS asked for an additional $18.3 million with the aim of hiring 19 new frontline officers, highlighting rapid population growth in the region.
On Feb. 1, Mark Crowell, WRPS Chief, presented the budget proposal to council before it went to a vote later that month. Crowell highlighted the increasing crime severity index in the region, as well as growing rates of violent crime, a growing population, increasing complexity of crime in the region, staffing commitments and a commitment to the health and wellness of members of the WRPS.
“The Review recommends that the Service consider an increase in its front-line officer complement to help address high officer case loads and declining clearance rates, and that it establish a mechanism for on-going and sustainable increases in line with demand for services,” the summary said.
Other recommendations included: improving data quality and performance measurement, increased efficiency and effectiveness of frontline officers through call diversion, improved deployment through realignment of organizational boundaries and increased rural responsiveness through relocation of officers.
“Between 2017 and 2021, the police budget increased consistently year over year, and in all five years, we saw that budgetary increases failed to prevent the increase in the reported violent crime rate,” Sloss said at the meeting.
Taking inflation and population growth into account, Sloss found that police budget growth was disproportional still while healthcare and housing were barely able to cut pace. Decreased funding in other initiatives and organizations did correspond with a growth in crime.
“Over this time period, the police budget grew at a rate faster than inflation and population combined,” Sloss said. “While finding for the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention has recently been eliminated, the historical connection between its deteriorating funding and the rise in reported violent crime rates provides an important lesson to learn about future funding for agencies that are engaged in crime prevention.”
Jessica Hutchinson, instructor in the faculty of social work at Wilfrid Laurier University, said this year’s budget approval was a mixture of hope and despair. There were over 30 delegates to council, many of whom asked for the budget to be sent back to the Police Services Board to reconsider the surplus they had built into it. Where many of the councilors worked to change the status quo, others worked to maintain it.
“We have people on Council who are so invested in policing they reject any evidence that goes against their love of the WRPS. Delegate upon delegate provided thoughtful comments rooted in research and evidence,” Hutchinson said. “Police respond to events after they happen; they do not prevent harm and violence no matter how much they claim they contribute to crime prevention.”
Rob Deutschmann, councilor for Ward 2, said the evidence presented was not always relevant and the connection between the rationale and demand was sometimes unclear.
“The chief showed video of somebody breaking into an office…I saw no purpose in that,” Deutschmann said. “There may have been some advocacy in that, but I don’t see how that video was addressing crime prevention or crime suppression or crime investigation is just showing a crime in action.”
“Then the police show videos of crimes as a way of justifying their budget or they present statistics that are designed to scare people. I don’t know how much of it is actually intended really to try to convince the counselors versus trying to convince the general public right,” Sloss said.
Considering that the full KPMG report was unavailable to council or public until after the budget was approved, many community members voiced critiques of and disappointment in the approval process. Without access to the full report, some key insights were overlooked.
“It seems convenient that the summary mentions the need for additional staffing without mentioning that WRPS has a healthy surplus to pay for these officers without an increase in their budget,” Janice Jim, member of GroundUp WR, said. “How can a budget properly be discussed and voted upon if such important numbers are left out?”
Sloss said the lack of access to the report and some of the statistics provided by the WRPS indicated cherry-picking of data. For example, only statistics that increased were mentioned and decreasing statistics were not. Moreover, statistics showed changes over the last few years were presented as trends when they did not classify as such.
“Tied to the unreliability of the year-over-year statistics, I am also concerned that council is not being presented with the full picture of what happened between 2021 and 2022,” Sloss said at the Feb. 8 meeting.
Budget surpluses over the last few years were not clearly communicated by the WRPS. While some councilors asked questions about the surpluses, it was not specified that KPMG also recommended using previous surpluses to offset the costs of additional officers for the WRPS. The report states that the WRPS had a surplus of $2.9 million in 2019, $4.9 million in 2020 and $2.3 million in 2021.
Kevin White, a Kitchener resident, said it was disappointing to learn of the KPMG’s recommendation, especially in light of other organizations’ requests for much smaller amounts of money being rejected.
“The report mentions the word ‘surplus’ or ‘surpluses’ at least 10 times, making references to police budget surpluses from previous years and that staffing should, at least in substantial part be paid for through these surpluses,” he said.
“This comes as a significant disappointment to say the least to a variety of previous delegations and organizations that have petitioned the region for continued funding or increases to operating budgets that were substantially smaller than any of these surpluses and frequently these were organizations providing immediate benefit to underserved community members,” White said.
The KPMG report is also under scrutiny. The measures used in the report as well as the comparators are not explained clearly. Moreover, a statement on page 12 highlights a growth in visible minorities in the region, equating it to an increase in crime.
“That this page of information was apparently not questioned, contested or objected to suggests that WRPS and the Police Services Board members found it quite a reasonable statement. That is to say, that diversity and visible minorities equate to more crime,” White said.
“This is exceptionally troubling as it suggests that criminal behaviour is inherent in visible minorities,” he said.
Council has the authority to approve the WRPS budget, but they only see high-level items and do not see a more granular breakdown of budget items. Sloss said this prevents council from conducting meaningful conversations about the budget.
“I think the first thing we need to do is get more granularity. So, , what we’d ideally like to see is having that broken out according to the types of activities that the police are engaged in,” he said.
This lack of access to complete information means that the budget is discussed in isolation.
Deutschmann said there was not enough opportunity to analyze the KPMG report and the WRPS proposal.
Delegates also expressed disappointment in the lack of transparency in the budget proposal process.
Deutschmann recognized the need for police services in the community but questioned the rapid growth in resources allocated to the WRPS.
“I think as we grow as a community, there will be a need, there’s always going to be a need for police. And that need is going to grow. I mean, the police force will have to grow the question is: at what pace, at what rate?,” he said.
“And how do you counterbalance that with investment in upstream services, as I said, for crime prevention, because we need that as well,” Deutschmann said.
Sloss and Deutschmann both said it is important for community members to use their skills and expertise to hold the government and the police accountable. Deutschmann said community members should advocate for their viewpoints and maintain communication with people who hold different opinions.
“[A]dvocate your view, continue to advocate, meet with people to discuss your view. Meet with people that share different views to understand where they’re coming from. And that’s the only way we can make positive change happen is when people from different sides of the issue, maintain links of communication,” Deutschmann said.
For Sloss, the unequal playing field between government and the public regarding data collection and analysis is a gap he can fill.
“There’s sort of almost an unequal playing field right where governments have a lot of resources that they can put towards doing data and data analysis. I feel as though sort of regular citizens are at a bit of a disadvantage because they don’t have the full kind of resources that governmental organizations have,” Sloss said.
“There’s definitely a contribution I can make by giving tools and resources to people to regular citizens. So that they can sort of interpret and understand the kind of data analysis that is being presented by governmental organizations and be able to sort of have the knowledge to contribute to discussions around that data,” he said.