Minimal staffing and an increase in crime ‘a perfect storm’ for 2019 budget, advises St. Thomas police chief

city_scope_logo-cmykThe increase in the service’s operating budget for 2019 is overshadowed by other departments at city hall – in the clerk’s department, for example, the budget is up by 24.9 per cent over last year – however, St. Thomas Police Chief Chris Herridge wants to set the record straight on his request for a 5.4 per cent hike in his operating budget this year.
In a dollar amount, that’s almost $12.5 million, up $645,000 from a year ago. It represents about 22 per cent of the city’s 2019 operating budget. A figure that has held fairly steady over the past eight years, according to Herridge.
The line items that jump out are a 200 per cent increase in part-time wages to $105,000 and an 11.6 per cent bump in overtime/stat pay to $202,000.
But keep in mind also, as Herridge noted prior to Monday’s special meeting of council to begin budget deliberations, 94 per cent of the police service operational budget is eaten up by wages and benefits, something over which he has no control.

In a lengthy discussion in advance of the budget deliberations, Herridge stressed the police service is caught in a “perfect storm” when it comes to staffing numbers.
Based on Stats Canada figures, a city the size of St. Thomas ideally should have a complement of 73 officers, instead, the service is operating with 70.
herridgejpg“And that doesn’t include those who are off for a variety of reasons,” explains Herridge.
In fact, three officers are not available due to medical reasons and one other is suspended, although he was not a front-line officer.
“We are lower than the provincial average,” Herridge points out, “And that puts us down about eight officers, and we have four platoons and that’s nearly two officers per platoon.”
Quoting stats from this past year, Herridge notes occurrences are up 24 per cent, criminal charges are up 72 per cent, property crimes have increased by 89 per cent and motor vehicle collisions are up 83 per cent.
“We have to have the resources in place,” advises Herridge, who assures the service continues to put the cuffs on crime in the city.
“We had the large drug bust over $500,000, we had commercial crimes out of the industrial zone, we work with our policing partners (in London) and help make an arrest there. We did the human trafficking thing at the hotel on the outskirts of St. Thomas.
“We recovered over 100 bikes, we just solved two robberies, but those things all take resources and staffing to do that. There’s only so far you can spread your staff. That’s the biggest hit to our budget for 2019 is the fact that we do need more staff.”
Herridge points out, “We already had one part-time person here and a part-time wage is about $35,000. With three part-time employees, it goes up to $105,000. But in 2016, we had a person in the front office, a clerk who was part-time and we needed a full-time communicator, to replace someone who left, so she took that position, but we never did replace her in the front office.
“So given how busy we are in the front office now with everything they have to do, we’re just replacing a person that we never replaced in 2016.”
In addition, a shuffling of responsibilities undertaken by two senior officers will ultimately save over $40,000, notes Herridge.

“We’re just asking to bump up our staffing levels so that we can continue to provide the service that we’re providing to the community and it’s an exceptional service.”

The move will result in a dedicated school support officer, a part-time position to be filled by Katherine McNeil, who is returning to the service, and a corporate communications officer, a civilian position, to be assumed by Tanya Calvert, who previously had looked after both areas.
Operating below an ideal staffing level is having a snowball effect, as Herridge explains.
“When you’re running with your minimal amount of officers on the street, they can’t get time off. What happens when people can’t get time off, eventually, is they’re going to find a way to get time off.
“It’s happened to us, our sick time went up 25 per cent in 2018. At one point last year, we had 10 people off for various reasons. And most of those medical related. And it’s carried over into 2018.
“You throw on top of that how busy we are with increased occurrences and charges and you kind of have the perfect storm.”
policeAll of which impacts the well-being and morale of the organization, contends Herridge.
“We’re just asking to bump up our staffing levels so that we can continue to provide the service that we’re providing to the community and it’s an exceptional service.”
The chief admits he worries about the mental health of his officers and civilian staff so he is exploring creative ways to address that concern.
“We’re looking at bringing in therapy dogs. I know EMS does that from time to time so we’re reaching out to them to see if we can do that.
“It’s all about what we can do for the well-being of our staff to ensure that physically they’re fine and mentally they’re fine. And, when they come to work, they’re ready to do a good job. And when they go home, their home life and private life is not being impacted by the stresses of their professional life.”
It’s a monetary juggling act, however cutting to the chase, knock off a three per cent hike in benefit costs and a two per cent wage increase in the latest collective agreement and this year’s operating budget is looking pretty good, suggests Herridge.
“We need to keep the community informed, concludes Herridge, who adds, “We’re not hiding anything, tell it the way it is. And I think the facts and the numbers we provided, they speak for themselves.”

Related post:

Where your St. Thomas tax dollars are destined in 2019 (a lot are going to wages and benefits)

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