There are some people who believe investing in the police isn’t a good thing. Eric Stubbs, the new chief of Ottawa’s police service, isn’t one of them.
He told the board responsible for governance of the police service exactly that in his first verbal report since taking over as chief in November.
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“The OPS needs continued investments to ensure that we can meet the demands of this great and growing community,” said Stubbs at the Monday night meeting.
He made the case for investments in a handful of thematic areas based on observations after his first few months on the job.
One was trust in policing.
“I understand that trust has eroded in the past year, and we have work to do to earn that back and restore the trust,” said Stubbs. He went on to note that he has good reason to believe it’s possible.
He’d spoken already with leaders from diverse communities across the city: Indigenous, Muslim, Sikh, Jewish, and Congolese. Early conversations also extended to the Ottawa Mission, local business improvement areas, and two entities that advise the police service and city hall, respectively: the community equity council and the community safety and well-being committee.
There are more people to meet, he says, but “the overwhelming theme is that they are interested in working with us, working with the police service, whether it’s to tackle issues specifically in their individual communities or with the community as a whole.”
Another theme was the increasing demand for services the Ottawa police can provide. “I can see our chronic challenge to provide the adequate resources needed to satisfy that demand,” Stubbs said.
Auto theft was one area Stubbs cited – something that has “plagued the province of Ontario and Ottawa as well” – and another was hate and bias crime. Reported incidents of the latter were up 13 per cent last year.
“But we first need to focus on increasing our frontline resources so members can attend these calls in a timely manner and still have time for meaningful, proactive work,” said Stubbs. “I can’t emphasize (enough) the importance of frontline officers having the time to be proactive and positively interact with the community instead of going from call to call.”
Stubbs also referenced demand for more police presence targeted at road safety; “ongoing pressure” surrounding cybercrime; and policing for protests, major events and state visits, like that of incoming U.S. President Joe Biden.
There was one area where the chief noted support for the OPS relinquishing responsibility: non-criminal calls for service, typically involving mental health crises, addictions or homelessness.
“We need to work in partnership with city hall and the social services sector to better manage these issues and shift some of these responses to those that are more experienced in these areas, and police aren’t the primary responders. This is what the community is saying, they said it today, and we agree with them.”
Stubbs’s verbal report to the board came on the heels of presentations by members of the public, many of whom advocated for rethinking proposed spending on policing, including the upcoming $400-million draft OPS budget. Board members voted Monday to approve its drafting based on a 2.5 per cent tax increase, up from the two per cent the service got last year.
Stubbs spoke as well about modernizing the service’s facilities and its administrative support, such as IT and human resources.
“In the past, during times of fiscal restraint, in an effort to … realize budget savings, these areas have suffered and the results, to be quite frank, have been predictable. We need to return some of their resources so we can give them a chance to succeed and do their jobs.”
Stubbs said the force should invest in its ability to provide meaningful data for internal and external use, and also needs a digital evidence management system that should, in the new chief’s opinion, include the use of body-worn cameras – of which Stubbs said he’s a “big supporter.”
With respect to the long-planned south facility in Barrhaven — to replace the aging Leitrim and Greenbank police stations, which now has a 50 per cent higher price tag – Stubbs said the service needs to refocus “to ensure that we have a modern workspace that supports our members and supports the community.”
Stubbs was hired as chief after the resignation of Peter Sloly during the Freedom Convoy occupation, with the position filled on an interim basis by deputy chief Steve Bell.
A 30-year veteran of the RCMP with key roles in British Columbia and in Ottawa, Stubbs said OPS team – senior leadership, the Ottawa Police Association and the senior officers’ association – have “gone out of their way to not only welcome me into this new role but to guide me through some interesting ups and downs in first few months.”
-With Postmedia files