The Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS) will ask city council for a budget increase of 5.49 per cent for next year, which would likely add almost two per cent to taxpayers’ property bills.
The police service has budgeted $13,439,566 in operating expenses in 2023 and revenues of $1,658,507, leaving council — and taxpayers — to cover the net operating budget of $11,781,059, the proposed budget shows.
Compared to this year, the organization expects its operating expenses to increase by $699,627, its revenues to increase by $86,694, and its net operating budget to increase by $612,933. This is an overall increase of 5.49 per cent.
The exact amount this would add to property taxes is still uncertain. However, city hall has said one percentage point of municipal taxation in 2023 would likely generate about $328,000. That means the police service’s request could add about 1.86 per cent to property taxes.
The police service presented its proposed 2023 budget during the Oct. 19 Board of Police Commissioners meeting. The board unanimously approved the document, which will go to council’s budget deliberation meeting in November.
The proposed budget supports current and enhanced levels of community safety by providing technological upgrades, substantially increasing public information provisions and having a full deployment of officers, police Chief Rick Bourassa said.
For example, the police service’s records management system “is quite dated” and has not been renewed since the 1990s. Once upgrades are made, essential components would be added that would increase efficiency and effectiveness.
One tech upgrade would be an enhanced computer-assisted dispatch system, which would increase the speed and content of information that police need when responding to calls and reduce the time they spend entering reports, said Bourassa.
Police have portable laptops in their vehicles, so they can complete their work anywhere, he continued. In-car reporting keeps officers out of headquarters and more in the community. This results in increased interaction and visibility, reduced response times, enhanced investigations and better policing.
The MJPS also plans to move to electronic ticketing, which would reduce officers’ time at incidents and increase their availability to maintain traffic safety, added Bourassa.
Moose Jaw is considering purchasing body-worn cameras, Bourassa said. He has spoken with the Saskatoon Police Service about its current pilot project and believes Moose Jaw can learn from that.
The audio and visual recording system in police headquarters that is used for security, detainee safety and court purposes is nearly finished, he continued. The organization plans to install a new system, but additional digital storage and retrieval costs will be incurred.
Bourassa added that the MJPS needs extra leased physical space to accommodate its exhibit retention, equipment storage and operational capacity.
These technology upgrades are not an option because the MJPS must keep up with the times and have the proper infrastructure, said Commissioner Mary Lee Booth. It is inevitable that body cameras will become a reality.
“We had been using some City of Moose Jaw locations in the past, that were since repurposed because they needed that space,” explained Deputy Chief Rick Johns. “So we’ve been sort of — bit by bit — carving out (space) within the Moose Jaw Police Service to store a lot of items.”
The organization possesses over 3,000 items in its exhibit and retention area and must retain them for legal purposes, he added. It is “really starting to bust at the seams” and requires extra off-site storage space.
The MJPS’s current strategic communications model is from a pre-digital age and must be upgraded to provide better public information, said Bourassa.
“Research — and our survey results from our citizens’ survey conducted in 2019 — really confirm that we need to improve in that area,” he continued. “Our community expressed dissatisfaction with our current public information model and our lack of information that we’re providing regularly to the community … .”
The research shows that a robust information and communications plan — including proactive online engagement — increases public interaction, safety, trust and confidence in police, the police chief added.
The police service needs a social media strategy so it can provide timely and factual information to counter the lies people post online, said Booth.
“What’s happening on social media right now is actually very dangerous because people will go on opinions (and) not fact,” she added. “I’m 110 per cent in favour of a person dedicated to that immediate social media strategy. And I know it will be done with a high degree of professionalism, integrity, transparency and … accountability.”
A full lineup
The police board authorized the MJPS to have 64 officer positions, but there are five vacancies the organization is attempting to fill, said Bourassa. Two people will start training in January, while three could start training in July.
“… we’ve heard from the community many times that they want to see police officers more frequently (since) they’re visibility is really important,” he added. “This year, we were able to meet some of those needs and have our members downtown in the park areas, and we have some proposals enhancing that even more as we move forward and into next year.”
The next police board meeting is Thursday, Nov. 10.