Next week, Ottawa Council will vote on a $11-million funding increase for the Ottawa Police, which would bring the yearly OPS operating budget just north of $340 million.
The two-per-cent increase (instead of the 2.86 per cent the police wanted) was recommended by the Ottawa Police Services Board after a marathon two-day session, which heard almost 70 delegates ask for a budget freeze.
To hear police Chief Peter Sloly and Mayor Jim Watson talk, you would think people were advocating to completed defund the OPS. Watson, who despite two days of a fully public hearings said he would speak with Sloly himself, worried that giving the police more money would mean fewer cops on the street. And Sloly has earlier threatened that a smaller budget increase would result in laying off dozens of officers, endangering public safety.
Unlike social services, community programs and everyday voters, who are always asked to do more with less, police budgets never go down. The police always say they need more money.
When crime goes up, they ask for more. When crime goes down, they ask for more. Heck, even when marijuana was legalized, they asked for more money.
They want money to maintain their armoured vehicle. They want money to arm every officer with energy weapons. They want money for assault gloves. They want money to outfit militarized officers to stand around at football games.
But here is what the police are not asking us to fund: accountability, transparency and meaningful oversight.
Back in 2013, in an editorial titled “Reckless police work,” the Ottawa Citizen raised serious questions about systemic problems in the OPS with officer training and education. The editorial followed a high-profile acquittal of a child pornographer due to Charter breaches by the police. The Court found that, “the Charter breaches in this case were multiple and each one more serious than the last because the breaches were due to carelessness, negligence and a flagrant disregard for the law and established Charter standards.”
It turned out the OPS had no formal programs to educate police officers on Charter rights or civil liberties. And they still don’t, as illustrated through two court decisions of mine, separated by over a decade.
In 2021, an Ottawa judge excluded a large quantity of drugs as evidence because police did not advise my client of his right to counsel following arrest. To compound the problem, the court noted that the officer who violated the law “was assigned the task of teaching a recruit officer, (in) the practicalities of policing. It is impossible to do that effectively when one’s own understanding of such a fundamental duty is fundamentally flawed. Perhaps small wonder, then, that the recruit officer delayed reading the right to retain and instruct counsel, ‘because that is how (she) was taught.’ ”
A decade earlier, another Ottawa judge excluded evidence and acquitted my client, saying, ”I am troubled that a sergeant of the Ottawa police force, an officer with 30 years of experience, an officer who is in charge of guiding and supporting other officers and providing advice to constables, an officer who works in general uniform patrol on the streets of Ottawa, is not aware that an accused’s right to counsel are engaged on detention. This is particularly troubling given that the officer said he was unaware of the need to advise detained individuals of right to counsel.”
Here is the thing: the Ottawa Police Service doesn’t care about rights and freedoms or its constitutional obligations. If it did, it would have implemented a transparent, ongoing and objectively evaluated program to educate its officers.
But it does care about money.
If the police won’t obey the law or listen to the courts, why should they be rewarded with increased funding? But it seems that our politicians are too cowardly to insist on value for money when it comes to the police.
Some problems are hard to solve, but the problem of an unaccountable police force with a ballooning budgets is one with an easy cure — and it starts with politicians simply having the courage to say no.