By Cecilia Nasmith/Today’s Northumberland
The Cobourg Police Service stands to expand its numbers by four sworn constables in 2024, according to the budget it submitted this week.
This was easily the most contentious issue at Tuesday’s inaugural meeting of council’s Strategic Priorities and Policy standing committee, following a presentation by Chief Paul VandeGraaf on that department’s 2024 budget.
Mayor Lucas Cleveland questioned VandeGraaf’s request for the officers, insisting the department should have the six originally envisioned. Cleveland put a motion on the floor to refer the prospective budget back to the Police Services Board in order that this might be considered and a revised budget resubmitted.
Furthermore, the mayor added, he was calling for a recorded vote to get on the record “which members focus on security and safety, and which focus on the budget.”
All remaining councillors – except for Randy Barber, who seconded Cleveland’s motion – objected to that framing of the issue.
“I have never heard Your Worship ask for more money or more officers for anybody,” stated Councillor Adam Bureau, the Police Services Board delegate from council.
“Then to say I care more about taxes than the safety of our residents is outrageous.”
Bureau speculated on the reason the mayor wanted the extra staffing – perhaps due to the unknowns surrounding the county’s acquisition of 310 Division St. and its plans to make it a shelter, or maybe due to remarks he had made about expanding police service to Hamilton Township or Alderville.
“It would be nice if this council knew exactly what’s going on in your mind so we can actually be a team and work together,” the councillor said.
“To blanketly say a vote against this amendment is, ‘You don’t support community safety…’” Deputy Mayor Nicole Beatty objected.
“You are entitled to your opinion, Mr. Mayor, but I want to clarify your statement does not reflect my feelings or my intention in not supporting this amendment.”
“I take offence to the mayor’s comment that it’s either/or,” Councillor Brian Darling agreed.
“I am not a professional in every aspect of everything that comes before council, so I rely on our staff, who are professionals in their field, to bring this back with the most accurate data they can. I feel that is what was done.”
A past member of the Police Services Board, Councillor Aaron Burchat characterized it as a knowledgeable group of individuals whose recommendation he supported.
“I have confidence in the Police Services Board and their work,” Councillor Miriam Mutton stated.
Cleveland was inspired to go for the extra increase by VandeGraaf’s presentation on both the growing numbers and complexities of the challenges the force faces – not to mention provincial legislation that takes effect in April that brings its own requirements. He also expressed concern for changes that may occur after Northumberland County opens their newly purchased property at 310 Division St. as a shelter later this year.
Four of the key issues and priorities they face (homelessness and affordable housing, mental health, poverty and unemployment, and substance abuse and addiction) are not even traditionally the province of police, VandeGraaf pointed out, though they must deal with these issues when traditional avenues are underfunded.
Cobourg’s population has grown from 19,440 in 2016 to a projected 21,769 by the end of this year. But the 13,292 calls for service last year represent a 231% increase since 2016.
Demands are increasing in every area – investigative, for example. Newest requirements impose a 60-day time limit within which they are required to collect and deposit evidence with the Crown Attorney. And whereas a stolen credit-card call would once have taken 10 minutes to deal with, it now requires contacting banks and businesses, collecting CCTV footage and collecting property from courier companies.
And being on the Highway 401 corridor involves Cobourg with criminal enterprises such as drugs quite handily.
Another thing to keep in mind is the simple reassurance (and deterrent) effect of enough officers visibly on patrol.
And while the population has grown steadily and calls for service have increased sharply, Cobourg’s force has only grown from 34 to 36 officers over the past decade. So without the increased hires, VandeGraaf said, “there’s no additional capacity for any of this work. We are left with what we are doing in those very important areas.”
Along with this, the 2024 Cobourg Police Service is shaped by other costs, such as IT security and increased training, for a $10.9-million operational budget, a 6.3% increase from last year. Thanks to revenues for their corporate service operations, only 68% of this will go on the tax levy.
Along with his sworn officers, VandeGraaf praised the dedication of the force’s 16 special constables and the volunteer cadre who committed more than 4,000 hours of service last year in such duties as crime prevention and community engagement – the equivalent of two full-time employees, he pointed out.
Council voted (with the exception of Cleveland) to accept the presentation for information purposes as it worked toward finalizing this year’s budget.