Before Brandon’s police board fully buys into the idea of creating community safety officers, as proposed by the city’s police force, we suggest board members carefully consider the new costs associated with such a program.
As you can read in today’s paper, CSOs would have peace officer status, which indicates that they could make arrests when necessary. However, these new municipal employees wouldn’t be involved in emergency calls or where the possibility of violence exists, and also would not be involved in the investigation of major crimes.
Thanks to recently passed provincial legislation, however, municipalities outside of Winnipeg, such as Brandon, could use these new peace officers to conduct foot patrols, traffic control at collision scenes, bylaw enforcement, and any number of other minor duties that are currently the purview of full-time police officers.
This would free up the time of regular force officers to do the “meat and potatoes” policing duties like solving crimes, suggests Brandon Police Association president Kevin Loewen.
And in the course of their duties, these CSOs would be scrutinized for future jobs as police officers.
Freeing up regular officers to focus on crime-fighting, while bolstering future recruitment for the force, certainly sounds like a good plan. At least on paper.
Why have an officer who makes a more-than-healthy wage guard a crime scene — and potentially add to the overtime budget — when a CSO can do the same job for a third of the cost? Makes perfect sense to us.
But the caveat here is that these new community safety officers would be adding to the costs of policing Brandon, and not really lessening the burden on taxpayers. This plan is being sold as a means to slow the growth of policing costs, not as a way to deflate them.
And that’s because these new peace officers would be augmenting the police force staff, not replacing highly paid officers. That is problematic.
Back in February, the Sun reported that the Brandon Police Association’s 120 members would be getting a hefty raise over the next three years. The 85 sworn members were to see salary increases of three per cent in 2014 and in 2015, and 2.75 per cent in 2016. Non-sworn members were to be granted wage increases of 2.5 per cent this year, followed by two per cent in both 2015 and 2016.
Last year, however, police staffers received a 4.4 per cent raise in January, plus a top-up in July 2013. And as we noted previously, by the time this new three-year contract expires, the base wage for a first-class constable (basically, a beat cop with five years’ experience) will top $92,000.
In short, the police salary line in the City of Brandon budget is growing excessively, especially for a small city like Brandon. Look no further than the city’s compensation disclosure document for 2013 that was released this past July.
Of the 67 City of Brandon employees who brought home six figures last year, 45 work in the police department.
Meanwhile, according to recent crime numbers from Statistics Canada, serious crime was down 35 per cent overall in 2013, compared to numbers recorded in 1998. However, the violent crime index rose by 7.8 per cent for the same period — and jumped by 14 per cent in 2013 compared to 2012.
Brandon police Chief Ian Grant suggested that a growing city like Brandon will need to continue hiring additional police officers. But hiring CSOs who would be paid at a lower rate, could reduce the number of required officer hires.
“To me, in looking at it, it’s all about trying to work in a more efficient manner,” Grant said. “We realize that we live in an environment where people are cognizant about how much money is being invested into public safety.”
We’re glad that Grant and our police force are looking at ways to contain ballooning police costs. That’s at least a step in the right direction.
And we also recognize there is a need for our police force to have the officers, time and equipment necessary to address the surge in violent crime. Hiring CSOs as a potential solution is a commendable idea — one worth looking into.
But it’s premature for Grant to suggest that CSOs could not replace at least a few full-time regular officers on the force. We suggest the police board examine that as an option as well.