Beefing up the police
By Dave Yasvinski
The streets of London could soon be a whole lot safer thanks to a funding announcement made in Queen's Park yesterday.
Premier Mike Harris and Robert Runciman, Ontario's solicitor general and minister of correctional services, officially announced the allocations of the Community Policing Partnerships program outlined in last May's provincial budget.
The intention behind the program is to put 1,000 more police officers onto Ontario's streets over the next five years by paying half of their salaries. Municipalities province-wide were encouraged to submit requests to have access to the $122 million the government has put aside for this endeavour.
Justin Brown, acting communications assistant for the solicitor general's office, said it received 1,450 requests for officers and could only accept 1,000. "We had to look at them carefully. Decisions were made based on the size of the police service and making sure the province was represented."
Ontario's police college, which annually graduates 720 officers, has been expanded to accommodate an additional 1,000 officers over the next two years, Brown added.
Sgt. John O'Flaherty of the London police said the province agreed London was in need of more officers. "We asked for 30 [officers] and we got 30. It shows the province realized that these officers are required," he said.
"We have the lowest officer-to-citizen ratio in Canada. Right now neighbourhoods are going without officers," O'Flaherty said.
The 30 officers London has been approved for represents a maximum of just under $4 million in funding over the five years of the program, Brown said.
Although the province has agreed to provide funding for these officers, the City of London now has to do the same, O'Flaherty added. "Politically, [city councillors] have to decide this is a required thing and fund it. It's basically like buying a car for half price but they have to decide if they want a car at all."
London Mayor Dianne Haskett said while she supports the idea of more officers on the street, she is not sure it can be done at the expense of what the budget can bear at this time. "Overall the police budget is asking for a significant increase [from last year]. They may need to look at the rest of their budget and find a way to reduce it to accommodate this expenditure."
Haskett said she will have the opportunity to meet with new chief of police Albert Gramolini today at the Community and Protective Services Committee meeting. "We want to hear what the police chief has to say and hear what their position is."
There is always the possibility of a compromise which would bring more officers to London, just not as many. "Perhaps a number less than 30 that would not increase the cost so substantially to the taxpayer," Haskett said.
"Council has been very supportive of the police force. We have always allowed increases in the past but we are under pressure from citizens to keep taxes low," she added.