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Four new officers, CCTV cameras drive $1.7M police budget increase

The board also approved a total of $300,000 to be spent on CCTV cameras, which will be placed across the city to act as a crime deterrent and investigative tool
Earlier this year the Sault Ste. Marie Police added Automatic Licence Plate Reader cameras to the two main entrances to the city. Now the police board has approved $300,000 total to be spent on new CCTV surveillance cameras to be set up in various areas of the city.

New CCTV surveillance cameras will be placed in all parts of the city and an additional four front line officers will be added to the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, as part of a $1.7-million budget increase approved by its board on Thursday.

Chief Hugh Stevenson told the board the four new officers, as well as three additional officers approved earlier this year, represent the first increase to the base complement of front line officers since 1998. Once hired, the number of officers will increase to a total of 142.

One reason for the increase is to combat the department’s overtime problem. Stevenson said the amount of overtime the department will pay out this year is projected to be about $500,000.

Adding the additional four officers — one per platoon — will hopefully help to alleviate some of that pressure, said Stevenson.

“We are at least at over half a million [dollars] in overtime. That would allow me to purchase five or six FTEs — full-time-equivalent officers — and get 50 per cent more work out of them simply because they aren’t being paid time and a half,” he said.

Officers who are asked to work overtime are often coming off four 12 hour shifts, said Stevenson.

“Overtime contributes to additional sickness in the organization, it turns into situations where officers simply don’t have the energy or time to come in because they have just finished a set of four shifts at 12 hours. They need time with their families,” he said.

“The argument is, one can’t run a police service on overtime,” he added.

Another benefit of the additional officers will be visibility and availability.

“When we have downtown associations, businesses calling for greater police visibility in the downtown core, the problem is when we have enough officers — whether it be zone or not zone — it’s based on calls for service, to be blunt. They are in the downtown core, but they are being called out to different calls around the city,” said Stevenson.

“I know times are tight, but we have to be able to respond to calls for service,” he added.

Stevenson notes the 5.6 per cent budget increase is well below the over 8 per cent increase in the Consumer Price Index.

Some other factors are pushing the budget increase, including travel and training, a canine succession plan, as well as inflation. Additionally, $110,000 is being put into a fund intended for future building costs and $150,000 will spent by the department to match an equal amount offered by the province for CCTV surveillance cameras.

Those CCTV cameras will be set up as soon as possible, said Stevenson when speaking to media after the meeting.

“They will be all across the city, I can’t tell you specifically yet. We have to put a plan together to see how, where, why,” he said.

The hope is the cameras will be both a deterrent and an investigative tool.

“It’s the knowledge that maybe potentially in high-conflict areas we have cameras so people know they are being watched in a public street and they may be less interested in committing crime from a prevention perspective and secondly, if a crime does occur, we will have the opportunity to identify those folks on the cameras and start investigations,” said Stevenson.

Like with the installation of Automatic Licence Plate Readers earlier this year, a full privacy impact assessment will be conducted.

“It will be similar to the ALPR, we will have to notify the community and there will be signs and all of that kind of stuff,” said department spokesperson Lincoln Louttit when speaking to media after the meeting.

Salaries and benefits make up $29.5 million of the 2023 budget, while operating and capital expenditures represent $5.86 and $1.4 million, respectively. 

In a separate report to the board, Stevenson noted a number of key crime stats so far in 2022 have shown a marked decrease over the same period last year, while the total number of calls for service have been relatively steady.

Homicide and robbery statistics so far in 2022 are each more than 60 per cent lower than the same period last year, sexual assault is down almost 33 per cent and assault down by 11 per cent.

Total break and enter calls are down almost 35 per cent, while theft of motor vehicles is down by more than 30 per cent.

While many crime stats are trending downward so far this year, Stevenson noted motor vehicle collisions and bail violation stats are each up over 35 per cent.

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Kenneth Armstrong

About the Author: Kenneth Armstrong

Kenneth Armstrong is a news reporter and photojournalist who regularly covers municipal government, business and politics and photographs events, sports and features.
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