‘The largest ask we have ever, ever made’: Peel police Chief wants taxpayers to cover unprecedented 14% operating budget increase
According to Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah, he is leading an organization that is struggling to breathe.
Frontline officers are suffocating under the increasing weight of calls for those in mental health crisis; disputes between intimate partners that often turn violent, or deadly; the startling rise in stolen automobiles that has turned the Region of Peel into a hub for this global, black market; as well as the increasing presence of street gangs that are bringing more guns and complex crimes like human trafficking into Brampton and Mississauga.
This criminal activity is unfolding in two of Ontario’s largest cities, which see more rapid growth on the horizon. Since 2018, the number of residents and households whose safety is in the hands of Peel Regional Police officers has gone up considerably, and by 2050 the two cities are projected to grow by another 600,000 residents, to about 2.1 million. Calls to 911 increased 23 percent in the last year—and residents are having to wait close to a minute (50 seconds) on average to reach someone on the other end; a distressing reality for someone in a life or death situation where every second counts. The need to call 911 stems from a wide range of problems, but intimate partner disputes are routinely the top reason for citizen-initiated calls to Peel police—the numbers continue to rise. Other types of crime are also stretching PRP resources. In just the last year, auto thefts are up 48 percent; robberies with a weapon up nine percent; hate crimes up seven percent; assaults are up six percent and calls for mental health crises are also up six percent.
This data is how Chief Duraiappah set the table for the Peel Police Services board late last month when he came forward with a request to increase his organization’s operating budget by an unprecedented 14 percent in 2024.
It is necessary to get his team to a “breathing point”, he said during the October 20th meeting—a refrain he has repeatedly used during previous budget discussions.
Peel police Chief Nishan Duraiappah will present his organization’s budget to regional council Thursday.
(The Pointer files)
The request equates to an additional $74.5 million to PRP’s operating budget, bolstering it to $658.7 million, which is partially offset by $52.1 million in projected non-tax revenues—along with the police force’s capital budget (a projected $666.6 million for 2024) the total police budget is the largest expense, by far, for regional taxpayers.
The added dollars would fund 135 new officers; 80 percent would be dispatched to the frontlines with a focus on the key areas of gender-based violence, auto thefts, and mental health response, the Chief explained. The remaining officers would be placed in investigative services and support positions to strengthen the internal workings of the organization. The money would also allow for the hiring of 96 civilian positions; 20 percent would be 911 communicators, to help drive down response times that are well above national standards, creating a significant public safety issue.
The 135 new officers would be the highest number of new uniform-staff ever brought on by the organization in one year, and according to police board member Al Boughton, who also chairs the board’s finance committee, this would allow for a “right-sizing” of the frontline complement after years of merely managing the region’s booming growth.
“We are not just managing growth, but proactively responding to our community’s needs,” he said when speaking in support of the budget increase which heads to regional council for the first time today.
Boughton was not alone among board members who offered unanimous support for the unprecedented increase.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie admitted it is a “very large ask” but “something we need to support.”
“People are asking for more strength on the ground so I know this will be received in a favourable way, notwithstanding it’s probably the largest ask we have ever, ever made.”
While the operating needs (to get more frontline officers on the ground to address specific issues of public safety that are becoming an increasing challenge, and civilians to provide critical support to residents and officers) were the main focus, the capital budget also raises questions.
When the 2023 budget was presented, it only projected a $43 million capital budget for 2024, but that has now skyrocketed to $666.6 million, with a total of 21 new projects for the year (there are few details about what the lion’s share of this is for: $607.8 million to develop, purchase and maintain facilities including land, however, at the presentation to the police board it was stated a portion of this funding would be dedicated to a new police division in Mississauga's south end). It’s also unclear why so much capital funding from previous budgets remains unspent, with $933.8 million for 84 projects carried forward.
The PRP request will form part of the larger $5.9 billion Peel budget currently being considered by councillors at the Region. If approved as is, the budget for regional government would lead to a 4.5 percent increase to the regional share portion of the 2024 tax bill for local property owners (an additional $247 for a home assessed at $580,000). The Region is also proposing a 6.8 percent utility rate hike that could cost residents $78 more per year on average.
Other board members were mindful of the increase, but did not hesitate to support it. Len Carby, the Region of Peel’s citizen appointee to the police board, admitted there is a bit of “sticker shock” with the proposed increase, but with the complexity of the work done by police officers, it requires additional funding.
“It takes more resources to deliver policing in the way the public is requiring,” he said. “Our board stands shoulder to shoulder with you,” he told the Chief.
Member Ahmad Attia said the organization has been playing catch up in the years since Chief Duraiappah arrived in Peel (he was hired in late 2019). He said despite the historic request for uniform officers, the budget makes it clear through other initiatives that the Chief is delivering on his mandate to change the organization.
“Boots on the ground is not the only solution to ensuring we are offering adequate policing,” Attia said.
The budget request clearly sheds concerns of the past, particularly those surrounding calls to “defund” the police that were heard around the globe following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, suffocated to death between concrete and the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. The police reform movement that followed—one that was embraced by Chief Duraiappah—loomed large over budget discussions in 2021 and 2022. The historic request would suggest any concerns about the optics of police asking for more money have disappeared in Peel.
The unprecedented request may appear tone-deaf to residents who are struggling with a historic affordability crisis, that is generating record food bank usage, increasing numbers of houseless individuals placing unbearable pressure on Peel’s shelter system, growing waitlists for subsidized housing, and increasing rates of anxiety and depression. The additional $247 in taxes the entirety of the Region of Peel budget could cost the average property owner will not be a welcome piece of mail when the bill is opened by those already struggling to put food on the table, regardless of the promised public safety benefits it may bring.
The 2024 budget appears to be a tipping point for the Peel Regional Police.
The signs of change that Chief Duraiappah promised upon his arrival in Peel 2019 are starting to show, but are results coming fast enough to prove that non-traditional models of policing are successful?
The organization’s Mental Health and Addiction Strategy finalized in 2021 has led to the creation of specialized response units that pair officers who lack specialized training to deal with those suffering mental health issues with trained crisis workers to respond to these calls with someone other than an armed, uniformed officer, whose mere presence sometimes creates further anxiety for someone already in crisis. These Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams (MCRRT) not only help save time by allowing police to avoid lengthy delays at hospital dropping off an individual in crisis, but their expertise also helps prevent deadly confrontations like those seen in the cases of Ejaz Choudry or D’Andre Campbell. The program remains woefully underfunded by the Province, which funds the mental health professionals, and needs to double in size to adequately meet the needs the Chief says.
Specialized teams that pair frontline officers with mental health crisis workers have proven to reduce the workload of police and the tragic outcomes for those in crisis.
Under Chief Duraiappah PRP has also created the Intimate Partner Violence Unit, making it one of the few police forces in Canada to have such a team. The partnership with Safe Centre Peel operates similar to MCRRT in pairing a mobile support worker with an officer to respond to non-violent intimate partner dispute calls. These teams, while responding to incidents already in progress, can have “upstream” impacts by providing connections to critical services that help avoid future calls. PRP is also working to eliminate the systemic racism that has plagued the organization for years, and made abundantly clear by an audit completed by the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion in 2019. When Chief Duraiappah arrived he promised the findings of the audit would not just be a checklist for him to complete, but form the basis for a philosophy that would permeate the entire organization.
“We’ll always be the experts on catching the bad guys, but we are also having to turn our minds to forward-thinking models,” Duraiappah told The Pointer in 2019. “That’s the kind of thing that I’ve committed to the police services board, and that’s to start weaving these opportunities into how Peel Regional Police [operates], moving forward into the future. It is a philosophical change that is going to have to take seed right where the rubber hits the road.”
This led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the PRP and the Ontario Human Rights Commission to work together to eliminate systemic racism that was harming residents in Peel. While this effort has been criticized for its slow pace—most recently senior officers admitted to the police board that the complex theoretical concepts are proving challenging to convert into practice—it has increased the number of visible minority hires and led to thousands of hours of specialized training, including in areas of unconscious bias, and how to properly deal with children in crisis (stemming from the handcuffing of a 6-year-old Black girl by Peel officers in 2016). New hires are also now tested for mental vulnerabilities that could signal the existence of aggressive tendencies or bias against particular groups.
Despite these promising signs, the 2024 budget request and the response from police board members are not in line with the position of some community members.
For years, police budgets at the Region of Peel have been rubber-stamped with little in the way of public scrutiny. The police board approved repeated, unsustainable increases above the rate of inflation, for years. On average, between 2009 and 2020 the police budget increased 4.4 percent and rarely received pushback from board members or elected officials around the regional council table. Additional officers was a common theme among these budgets, which is not surprising. Between 2011 and 2018 Peel’s population grew by approximately 135,000 people. A growing population demands a larger number of officers to effectively police it. However, absent from these budgets was a focus on other means of addressing this growth. Peel can not hire its way out of the problems only partly created by a growing population. Also absent were strategies to deal with the complex needs of Peel’s diverse population. This was despite overwhelming evidence there was a need to fix widespread problems within the organization and find a new way of policing while keeping annual budgetary hits to a minimum.
One such method gaining traction is an increased reliance on civilian positions to do the internal work previously assigned to sworn officers. Ahead of Chief Duraiappah’s arrival, the organization’s civilian complement was relatively stagnant, increasing by only 56 positions between 2014 and 2018. In 2023, Chief Duraiappah included 50 new civilian positions in his budget ask, another historical request. For 2024 he’s looking for 96 more. It has been a slow realization for police leaders that simply throwing more officers at the problem of increasing crime does not solve the issue. It appeared Chief Duraiappah recognized this upon his arrival, scaling back a request for 55 officers in the 2020 budget to 35, choosing instead to hire 18 civilian positions.
The additional 135 officers in the 2024 budget proposal raises concern that the organization is slipping back into its old ways. Other police forces are dealing with similar issues, but are not looking for such wild budget increases. Ottawa is seeking a 2.4 percent budget bump in 2024; the Waterloo police, 7.6 percent; York, 4.6 percent. One organization with a comparable ask is the Peterborough Police Service which is seeking a 15.3 percent jump to address infrastructure issues and critically low staffing.
Peel is the third largest municipal police force in the country, and among these agencies, Peel has the lowest number of officers per 100,000 population.
While Chief Duraiappah admits this is not the best data point to support a call for more officers as it is not about the total number of officers but how they are deployed, it signals that Peel may not be meeting the population growth head on with new resources to police it. Part of this problem is practical, it is simply not possible to educate, train and deploy hundreds of officers in a single year, and it is far too expensive, but it is clear Peel will need additional resources in the years ahead as the population grows.
While the 2024 budget may be tough to reconcile during such an affordability crisis, the large requests will not end in 2024. This is concerning for two reasons.
First, while the Region of Peel has made it clear it wishes to see the PRP remain intact after the upper-tier municipality is dissolved in 2025, these future funding commitments—12.3 percent more in 2025; 10.8 percent more in 2026 and 8.3 percent in 2027—will now fall to the independent municipalities of Brampton and Mississauga and whatever new funding arrangement is worked out between them.
Second, there is evidence to suggest these startling number will be even higher as these budget forecasts are notoriously under-estimated.
Projections included as part of discussions for the 2022 budget, listed a 5.3 percent increase for 2023. In reality, this year’s operating budget required an 8.2 percent bump. Similar inconsistencies are observed when comparing previous estimates to the current financial outlook presented by police leaders. In 2022, a meager 4.9 percent increase was projected for 2024. Last year that projection increased to 7.6 percent for operating costs. A similar escalation is seen in the projections for years to come.
Numbers from two years ago projected a 4.7 percent operating budget hike for 2025, that jumped to 8.3 percent last year and now the most up to date numbers estimate a 12.3 percent increase. The projections from 2026 have increased from 8.2 percent last year to 10.8. This would bring the overall police operating budget to over $700 million.
This does not include the increasing capital needs of the organization which will require more divisions and more cars to accommodate the growing staff complement. In 2024 the organization is proposing a $666.6 million capital plan to buy new land for a division in Mississauga’s south end, and move forward with the recently announced Operational Support Facility.
It’s unclear whether this is even enough to get Peel back to the “breathing point” referenced by Chief Duraiappah. He said the same thing during his presentation of his first budget with PRP in December 2019. Despite a budget that has increased 22.2 percent since his arrival, it seems his organization is still suffocating.
The budget will be presented today (Thursday, November 16) at regional council.
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