By Trevor Busch
The Taber Police Service is seeking a 3.93 per cent overall increase in their proposed 2016 budget, but upcoming contract negotiations between the town and the police association have the potential to drive that figure higher in the new year.
At their Nov. 23 meeting, town council voted unanimously to accept as information the Taber Municipal Police Commission (Taber Police Service) budget narrative proposal.
“We all know and understand that crime is not decreasing, and the world is not becoming a nicer place to live in, or a nicer place to be,” said police commission chair Ken Holst. “We see it all over the world, problems happening recently after the Paris attacks, there have been threats as near as Banff. Definitely diligence and continuing partnerships with different forces, the law enforcement response teams, all of those kinds of things are critical and important for us. We know that attacks on the innocent are increasing, and attacks on police and other people in authority are increasing. We need to deal with these crime pressures.”
The 2016 net budget for the Taber Police Service rings in at $2,164,350, up $81,745 over 2015 ($2,082,605), for an increase of 3.93 per cent. For 2016, the service intends to maintain current staffing levels from 2015 of 20 full-time employees and 2.25 other staff members.
Total revenues for 2016 are estimated at $1,113,412, up from $1,083,750 in 2015. Total expenditures for 2016 are expected to be $3,277,762, up from $3,166,355 in 2015. By far the largest proportion of the previous figure is made up of salaries, wages and benefits, estimated to top out at $2,636,233.
The Taber Police Service was established in 1904. The modern service operates a police station, patrol and dispatch service that operates 24 hours a day. In addition to patrols, police respond to reported crimes and conduct investigations, as well as judicial preparation. The service also supports local crime prevention initiatives, including a school resource officer and victims services unit, as well as a secure prisoner holding facility.
“The work that we’re doing currently right now, we have a modern police station, we have a patrol service, we have a dispatch service that’s 24 hours a day,” said Holst. “We have all levels of law enforcement and crime investigation.”
Revenues for the police service include a $265,000 government policing transfer based on the formula applied to Alberta communities, as well as another $100,000 per year for the cost of an extra officer. Fine revenues currently top $430,000 (through three quarters of 2015) and are assigned to the police service.
A cost share agreement to support HSD’s school resource officer contributes $42,000, while fees for providing police information checks kick in a further $23,000. The E-9-1-1 centre also collects a 9-1-1 subscriber fee from Telus ($30,000) as well as grants sourced through the new 9-1-1 Emergency Act ($135,000).
Elements of the budget narrative also drifted into the political sphere, attacking media investigation into the “exploding costs of policing” while claiming that public opinion and local budget decisions are “shaped by these alarmist media claims.” The narrative went on to suggest rising costs due to court decisions, legislation and public policy factors that affect how work is carried out are often ignored by the media.
In defence of escalating law enforcement costs, the narrative cites the Taber Police Service’s clearance rate (how many crimes are solved) of 64 per cent, above the mean of 40 per cent elsewhere in Alberta, as well as positive support for the service in a community survey.
“Do not be misled; the police are very aware of what an increasingly important topic this is,” reads a portion of the budget narrative. “The Taber Municipal Police Commission in its budget preparation for 2016 stayed as flat as possible while maintaining our ‘no call too small’ community policing philosophy.”
Other concerns cited in the narrative document targeted medical marijuana regulations, while referencing the current federal government’s campaign promise to legalize and regulate the sale of the substance in future.
“A change to federal medical marijuana growing regulations was intended to eliminate individual production with its inherent exploitable flaws. Implementation is fraught with legal issues creating a chaotic landscape enhancing criminal abuse opportunities — that fight is still on as we anticipate a next-generation legalization.”
Partnerships between the Taber Police Service and sister law enforcement entities are integral to making sure the trafficking of other controlled substances is mitigated in the community, according to the budget narrative.
“The legal status of the marijuana situation does not diminish what is continuing to occur with the international importation of cocaine shipments. Diligence and continuing partnerships with the Alberta Law Enforcement Response Teams and Canada Border Services are critical to protecting Taber. A harmonious working relationship has been developed and is nurtured through participation in joint management of large scale investigations extending beyond our borders to curtail movement of drugs by organized crime through Taber.”
According to the narrative document, police and CUPE wages account for the bulk of the 3.93 per cent increase in 2016. However, this number is currently an estimate as upcoming contract negotiations between the Town of Taber and the Taber Police Association have yet to be finalized, and could potentially register an enhanced fiscal impact in 2016 over the increase currently estimated.
“The clearance — or solve rate — for the Taber Police Service is 64 per cent, which is exceeding the average of 40 per cent in the province by a large amount,” said Holst.
“If we look at revenues in the past, the police service and the cost of policing is actually 8.4 per cent (after revenues) of total expenses. If you notice the 3.93 per cent increase, more than that full amount is wage increase. If we were to take wage increases out from the police service and CUPE, that actually is higher than what it actually is.”