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Public trust declined but residents want Ottawa police budget increased: surveys

·4 min read
Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street in April 2021. (Olivier Plante/CBC - image credit)
Ottawa police headquarters on Elgin Street in April 2021. (Olivier Plante/CBC - image credit)

Public trust in the Ottawa Police Service has declined, but a slight majority of people still want to see the police budget increased, according to the results of two surveys paid for by the police force.

The results of the surveys — one a public opinion poll that gauged attitudes across the country on local police forces and the other a budget-specific survey designed to consult Ottawa residents about next year's police budget — were released Thursday in advance of Monday's Ottawa Police Services Board meeting.

Police have not yet tabled a draft budget for 2022, but have been instructed by the board to prepare one with a zero per cent increase or have justification for any proposed increases.

The budget direction comes after several months of impassioned pleas by marginalized groups and their allies to defund the police, or to at least rethink what police should and shouldn't do.

1,338 Ottawans surveyed on police services

"The overall perception of OPS declined over the last year," according to public opinion research, which took a random sampling of Canadians over the age of 18. The polling company Advanis collected the data then offered it to the police force, which purchased it.

The survey polled 1,338 Ottawa residents from May to July of this year and 624 from February to April of 2020 as a comparator.

Last year five per cent of people thought OPS was doing a very poor job and another five per cent thought they were doing a poor job, those numbers jumped to nine and 10 per cent respectively in 2021.

Ottawans polled think that negative assessment holds true for other police services, too.

Nearly half of respondents — 43 per cent — either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that the force "provides the same quality of service to all citizens."

Increase budget, say 51 per cent of OPS survey-takers

The budget-specific consultation was an online survey that could only be accessed through websites of either the police service or the police board.

In total, 4,443 respondents provided answers to that survey but only 3,200 of them completed it.

Fifty-one per cent of respondents said they favoured increasing the budget, 26 per cent said they wanted to decrease it, 16 per cent wanted to freeze it at 2021 levels and eight per cent said they were uncertain or had no opinion.

More than half of survey respondents — 53 per cent — also wanted to increase the number of police officers in the city.

Marginalized groups, younger respondents and those of higher education status were more likely to support reducing the police budget and number of officers.

 Justin Tang/Canadian Press
Justin Tang/Canadian Press

A large majority of respondents — 73 per cent — said they want to see some responsibilities shifted away from the police to other community services, with support being the highest among marginalized groups.

Respondents said their top priorities for the service and the police board were creating an "alternative model to mental health response," implementing community policing, addressing violence against women, creating and maintaining a youth strategy and monitoring traffic safety.

This survey also found that satisfaction with the overall quality of the police service has declined.

Weed out 'bad apples'

The trust and satisfaction ratings were lower among Indigenous and South Asian respondents, but that was the only place significant differences appeared.

"The majority of survey respondents in each race/ethnicity category preferred an increase to the number of officers, an increase to the OPS budget, and to shift some responsibility for response to social issues from OPS to community services."

The budget survey also asked people how trust in the Ottawa police could be strengthened. More than 2,000 people answered.

The top themes that emerged were increasing police presence or visibility, focusing on community policing and neighbourhood resources teams and ensuring the number of officers is appropriate as the city grows.

"The OPS must address the perceived lack of transparency, integrity, and provide equitable and respectful service that demonstrates duty of care and the judicious use of force," according to the findings.

Survey takers also said it was important for the force to up the consequences for misconduct and to weed out "bad apples" by "firing or suspending without pay OPS members who commit crime/misconduct."

Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press
Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press

In a statement issued Thursday, police Chief Peter Sloly said: "We have heard the calls for change which includes the need to work more effectively with our community partners on integrated and/or alternative responses to social issues, especially when it comes to mental health and addictions calls."

He said the force's 2022 draft budget "will address these important community and member issues, ensure ongoing investments in equity, diversity and inclusion while addressing the community safety and well-being needs of a growing city."

The police board is set to receive the results of the consultations Monday.

The service is scheduled to table its draft budget on Nov. 3.

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