Sault Police Service Chief Hugh Stevenson was point blank in his assessment of where the blame lies for the violent crimes in the city this year.
“Every violent crime we’ve had this year, has something to do with the poison coming into this community,” said Stevenson, with a clear reference to opioids, like Fentanyl. “There is an angle of poison in every one of these calls that involves violence, guns and death that is very devastating to this community.”
Stevenson made the statement during an address to City Council Monday night. He was at council chambers to convey SSMPS needs behind an increase in its annual budget to $37.7 million, an increase of $3.4 million from 2023.
Sault Police Services needs to hire more officers, Stevenson told council. The current complement of 142 is hovering at an acceptable level but with some officers on leave, the force often doesn’t not have the necessary number of officers on the road. Overtime is available, but Stevenson said officers are turning down OT opportunities “because they’re simply too tired.
Violent crime, said the Chief, carries a high cost. Ten years ago, the cost of a homicide was about $1.5 million.
“Today, it’s probably double that,” added Stevenson. Council made its first public dive into its 2024 budget, and currently it would carry a 7.2 per cent levy for taxpayers. A number of groups made their case for their respective budget submissions last night. After a presenting a brief overview, Chief Stevenson then fielded questions for about 50 minutes from the Mayor and council, where he detailed the need for more officers.
Stevenson described the funding for police services across the province is “broken.” The province, said Stevenson passes “presumptive” legislation that carries hidden costs that leave police services scrambling
to pay for costs the province itself should bear.
The Chief also stated that Bill C-75 needs to be adjusted. “You can’t have people on the street with 28 criminal charges walking around, on bail. That, is ridiculous.”
Stevenson says the SSMPS is operating on what he called an overtime budget that is not sustainable. He says there’s been an 18.8 increase in sick time as a result, compared to 2022-23. Often there are only 6-8
officers from a platoon of 13 on the road, for different reasons that are beyond his control. A total of 17 FTEs are eligible to retire next year, which could only compound the shortage.
“It’s a rolling ball. If we don’t hire staff we’re continually burning out the people we have.” The staffing shortage is exacerbated by a sharp rise in the volume of calls to Police Services. “Calls were way up this fall,” said Stevenson, adding 911 calls were up 100 per cent and violent crime calls were up 80 percent over what they were five years ago.
To better meet the increasing demand, four full-time civilian employees will be hired for 911 dispatch and another four FTEs will be added to process digital evidence as Police Services will introduce body cams for
officers in the coming year.
“It’s the right place and the right time for body cams,” said Stevenson, adding he expects at the point in the near future, they’ll be mandated and the price for the cams would likely double.
Body-worn cameras offer best-evidence, but are also cost effective, the said. Stevenson says they’ll result in less work for the Professional Standards Bureau, provide faster resolution of complaints and reduced
The Chief told council that to meet the demand for greater downtown police presence, the 2024 partially reflects the plan to hire 16 officers over the next three years. Four platoons of four officers will form a downtown division when the hiring has been completed.
“I think the sentiment generally here is we understand the increased calls for service, the demands are greater,” said Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker. “I don’t think there is any sense that it’s not a difficult time for your service, and that it’s a time where you’re in need of additional capacity. It’s just a matter of how we best balance that against other considerations.”
Mayor Shoemaker asked Stevenson if he could provide what the SSMPS budget increase would like were spread over four years rather than three.
Chief Stevenson agreed to provide those numbers to the city’s finance dept. in time for council’s next budget meeting, Dec. 11.