The Winnipeg Police Service will have to deal with an unprecedented and deadly meth-fuelled crime wave with fewer officers, Chief Danny Smyth says, after the WPS was ordered to cut $2.8 million from its proposed 2020-23 budget.
Smyth told the Winnipeg Police Board Tuesday afternoon he was attempting to devise a "status quo" budget for next year, but he was ordered by officials from the chief financial officer’s office to make the cuts to comply with a two per cent cap increase imposed by Mayor Brian Bowman and the executive policy committee.
"The implications (of the budget cap) mean service cuts and I’m not in support of that," Smyth told reporters following the board meeting.
"The (budget) targets don’t jibe with the environment that we’re dealing with right now," Smyth said. "This is going to be a challenge... because the same administration negotiated a five-year contract that included a 2.5 per cent increase, so I have a significant shortfall."
Smyth told the board in order to comply with the orders, he’s proposing to reduce the number of uniformed officers by 34 over three years and a reduction of 25 cadet positions — cutting the cadet corps in half.
The chief said the cuts mean Winnipeggers will see fewer cops downtown, less traffic enforcement and less crime prevention initiatives.
Smyth said the WPS isn’t planning any layoffs, adding should the two per cent cap be enforced, reductions in cadets and uniformed officers will be handled through attrition.
The number of uniformed officers would be cut by 17 in 2020, another 10 in 2021 and a final seven in 2022, the chief said.
However, 25 cadet positions will be eliminated effective 2020.
The WPS has a budget of $301.4 million for 2019.
Smyth’s presentation to the board was the first by a civic department in a months-long budget process.
In mid-October, Mayor Brian Bowman and finance chairman Coun. Scott Gillingham announced the city was embarking on a four-year budget process and tight caps have been placed on all civic departments.
"I had hopes I could have worked something out with the administration that would be mutually beneficial. I tried very hard to do that. In the end, I didn’t feel supported. In fact, I was left on my own." – Winnipeg Police Chief Danny Smyth
Winnipeg Transit, the water and waste department, and the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service have a two per cent cap in their budget over the next four years.
The cap is tighter for other areas: 1.5 per cent annually for public works; 0.5 per cent annually for community services; and zero increases for all other departments.
The police board will hear delegations from the public on the WPS budget at a special meeting Nov. 22.
Smyth said while the service tries to cope with the unprecedented increase in calls for service in a year that may likely see a record number of homicides, members of the service feel abandoned by city hall.
"I had hopes I could have worked something out with the administration that would be mutually beneficial. I tried very hard to do that. In the end, I didn’t feel supported. In fact, I was left on my own."
Police board chairman Coun. Kevin Klein said he disagrees with the two per cent cap imposed on the WPS.
He said the board’s responsibility is to develop a police budget that addresses community safety needs, adding what Smyth presented doesn’t meet that objective.
Klein said the additional $2.8 million Smyth is looking for should be easily accommodated in a city budget of more than $1 billion. Klein said the EPC refusal to consider alternate budget processes is leading to a crisis situation for city departments.
Police union president Maurice Sabourin said the WPS shouldn’t be considering reducing the size of its force in the current crime environment, adding he believes the two per cent cap was imposed on the service as pressure on the union to make concessions on its pension plan.
During the meeting, Smyth told the board a projected $3.7-million savings in overtime costs could be jeopardized by the staff reductions.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.
Updated on Tuesday, November 12, 2019 at 8:26 PM CST: Updates headline
8:48 PM: Final version, full edit.