In his commentary (“Disbanding BPS Unwise”) published in last Saturday’s Brandon Sun, Mark Frison misrepresented and distorted what I had written in a column published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Dec. 12. He then attacked arguments I had not even made. Even worse, he invented “facts” to support his argument.
Frison claimed that “the concept of contracting out the service to the RCMP has been championed by Winnipeg Free Press columnist Deveryn Ross.” He added “there is little to no evidence to support the thesis of Mr. Ross that doing so would result in cost savings or a safer community” and “there is so little evidence that I think it would be a mistake for the City of Brandon to spend upwards of $250,000 on consultants to examine the two options.”
Allow me to set the record straight.
In my column (which was not published in the Sun but can still be found on the Free Press website), I argued that the rapidly rising cost of providing police services has created a budget crunch that has caused many Canadian cities, including Brandon, to forego spending on important issues such as infrastructure, economic development, downtown revitalization and affordable housing.
The column was the result of five months of research, during which time I reviewed the audited financial statements of more than 20 Canadian cities, and corresponded with mayors, treasurers, police chiefs and city managers of several of those cities. I was also in contact with officials in the RCMP, the federal department of Public Safety and the president of the Brandon Police Association.
I identified five cities — Red Deer, Alta., Kelowna, B.C., Grande Prairie, Alta., Kamloops, B.C., and Moncton, N.B. — that have avoided massive policing cost increases. I indicated that the RCMP provides policing in each of those five cities, with the costs partially subsidized by the federal government.
Contrary to Frison’s assertion that I provided “little to no evidence,” I presented financial evidence and census data that showed that Red Deer’s “per citizen” policing cost is just two-thirds of Brandon’s, and that Kelowna’s cost is slightly more than half of Brandon’s.
I suggested that if Brandon had the same “per citizen” policing cost as Kelowna, it would reduce our policing costs by more than $6 million — allowing for targeted expenditures in areas such as infrastructure and a small property tax cut.
I also pointed out that Brandon’s police officers are currently paid almost as much as officers in Toronto and Vancouver. If the current pace of wage increases continues, Brandon could have the highest paid police officers in Canada by the end of the decade.
Frison says that I “championed” the disbanding of the Brandon Police Service. I did no such thing. Further investigation would obviously be required to determine if the RCMP is a more affordable option, and I questioned if our mayor and council had the courage to conduct such an investigation.
Frison argues it would be a waste of $250,000 to even ask the question — a figure apparently pulled from his hat. In fact, it would cost nothing for Brandon’s city manager to write to the RCMP, asking them to submit a proposal and annual cost estimate. He claims that Brandon would lose provincial funding for police officers, but he neither sets policy nor speaks for the provincial government.
Frison argues that “our level of (police) service will only be sustainable if future wage growth is more comparable to other sectors of the economy,” but that ignores an important point.
Our mayor and councillors have a duty to ensure that Brandonites are getting the best value for those tax dollars in every area of the city budget, not just the police. If they identify a lower cost option of comparable quality, they have an obligation to choose that option. They cannot make those choices, however, if they aren’t asking questions and seeking savings.
On the issue of policing costs, Frison argues that city council should not be asking those questions. I disagree. The evidence suggests there may be a more affordable policing option available.
Council has a duty to seek the facts and make a decision that is in the best interests of Brandon’s taxpayers.