The Ottawa Police Services Board has approved a $401 million budget for 2023.
The board approved its spending plan at a meeting Monday. It includes spending on hiring 25 new police officers, a body camera pilot project and more hybrid police vehicles.
The police budget is increasing by $15.2 million this year. Police say more than 80 per cent of that increase will go solely to maintaining services. Police expect to offset some costs through $600,000 in user fees and revenue from things like record checks, and by finding $500,000 in savings, through what staff called a reduction in professional services.
The board also approved a plan to spend up to $669,000 on automated licence plate readers using grant funds provided by the solicitor general and $5.2 million on the 2023 fleet replacement program. Documents prepared for the board say the Ottawa Police Service is expecting to buy 42 new hybrid vehicles this year.
The police budget equates to an increase in $17 in taxes for the average household in 2023.
Speaking to the media before the meeting, Ottawa police chief Eric Stubbs justified the increase by saying the city is growing.
"People are asking for us in a lot more different areas; the rural areas, the outlying areas, in the downtown core, they want more of us in the Market," he said. "There's increasing demands everywhere and we have to respond to that and with a growing community, the only way to do that is to invest in policing."
Public consultation showed that nearly half of respondents were not in favour of the draft police budget as it was presented in early February. Public delegations at the Ottawa Police Services Board meeting were also largely opposed to increasing the police budget.
"The budget is supposed to work for everyone," said Chloe Humber, during a public delegation. "During the election, I heard a lot from candidates, including the mayor, talking about change and how Ottawa is going to be run differently, but this budget and increase in police services is much of the same… How can we continue to add more officers when things continue to go wrong?"
Delegation Inez Hillel argued for freezing the budget, telling board members to be more critical of the police service's requests for more money every year.
"The police want more of everything, more cops, more money, more share of the budget. Do you ever ask them when they will have enough? When will you admit that more police is not equal to more safety?" she said.
Stubbs acknowledged prior to the meeting that the budget is large, but he was insistent on increasing it.
"They want us to be fiscally responsible. We understand that. Our budget is very large, over $400 million. We have to manage it effectively for the taxpayers of Ottawa," Stubbs said. "I don't see how we can effectively deliver policing with a growing population, with the demands and the more complexities of policing that we have, without keeping pace with that, and that includes more investment."
Stubbs acknowledged that The OPS's handling of the Freedom Convoy protest in February 2022 damaged trust in the police service. Both the city of Ottawa's auditor general and the Public Order Emergency Commission report highlighted several failures by the police service, but he said the requests for increased funding this year are largely unrelated to that incident.
"We've made mistakes. I've said that in the past and others have as well, too. Since that time, there's been significant changes on how we handle protests and major events," he said. "I understand trust was eroded in February 2022, and we need to build and earn that trust back and, as every event passes, hopefully the public sees that we're approaching these events in a much different way."
City council will debate and approve the full 2023 budget Wednesday.