Chief Frank Elsner said 90 per cent of the budget is taken up paying salaries and benefits to the force’s 264 full-time officers, 107 full-time civilian staff, as well as the force’s fluctuating number of part-time staffers.
“That’s increased, I believe, by three per cent since I’ve been here,” Elsner told the Oct. 10 meeting of the police services board. “And that’s because our budgets are shrinking. The discretionary income we have is shrinking.”
“At the end of the day, the amount of money we actually have to play with is miniscule ... We’re very, very close to the bone.”
He said the main increases to the budget, outside of 4.5 per cent jump in salaries and benefits, are “fuel, insurance and some of the city chargebacks,” Elsner said.
Chargebacks refers to money the city charges the police for such things as using a city building for its headquarters.
“People are often surprised by that, but the city gives us a bill for occupying their building,” he said.
The initial budget included a four-per-cent increase, but Elsner and his staff provided options to trim $230,000, reducing the increase to 3.5 per cent. Those options aimed at maintaining staffing and operational capacity without laying off any full-time staff.
While still higher than city council’s goal of keeping budget increases to the rate of inflation – about two per cent – Elsner said there is no more that can be cut.
“We believe the current budget is sustainable,” he said. “But I need to be very clear that we have cut this budget to the bone. There is no fat in this budget.
“But provided there are no huge, unforeseen circumstances — multiple, multiple homicides, a natural disaster, something like that, that we can’t predict — we’re confident that we can maintain our budget.”
Elsner also said police forces in Ontario — especially in Toronto — are looking at using red light and speed cameras to catch violators.
“We’re asking questions like, is having a static police officer stationed on the side of the road the best use of a police officer’s time?” he said. “If we had cameras doing that kind of work, we could have that officer on mobile patrol looking for dangerous drivers or people texting while they’re driving, all that kind of stuff.
Elsner also highlighted some of the initiatives police are pursuing this year and next, including crime mapping, where areas of the city with higher crime rates are tabulated.
“Instead of just driving around aimlessly and hoping to come across crime, we can actually start to locate the hotspots and direct our resources there,” he said.
“We have the largest geographic area to cover (in Canada). And that makes a huge, huge difference,” Elsner said, adding that Sudbury has 161 officers per 100,000 people, substantially lower than Toronto’s ratio.
“Toronto has substantially more police officers than we do, per capita,” he said. “And the size of the area [we] have to patrol, per police officer, is astounding.”
In terms of what they’re going to focus on in 2013, the chief said survey after survey has found Sudburians are most concerned about driving.
“Whenever we do surveys in our community, road safety is the No. 1 priority,” he said. “People by and large are not afraid of crime in their communities. What bothers them is people cutting them off and poor driving.”
Ward 5 Coun. Ron Dupuis, chair of the police services board, thanked Elsner and his staff for their work on the budget, which was passed unanimously.
“Thanks for your hard work and dedication,” he said. “It’s appreciated by this board.”