In a year that saw City of Guelph departments and boards do everything possible to keep their budget increase close to zero, the Guelph Police Service asked for a nearly 10 per cent increase. That accounts for over half of this year’s total tax levy increase, which currently sits at 3.78 per cent, but Guelph’s Police Chief is firm, his service needs those fund and the new people they will secure.
“It’s almost like we have this perfect storm of events that have left us with record crime rates, record crime severity, and all those other things you saw at council,” Cobey said referring to last week’s budget presentation. “This is the correction we need to get on a reasonable footing, and then grow at more of a pace that you’re used to seeing.”
Cobey explained that the service is facing a crunch between the needs of covering a rapidly growing city, and a change in the types of calls his officers are responding to.
“I think it’s difficult for members of the community to truly realize what it’s like to deal with trauma every single day, and fortunately they don’t have to,” said Cobey about the mental health of his staff.
“The fact that we’re having this conversation is light years ahead of where we were 25 or 30 years ago,” Cobey added. “I think our work has also changed in the sense that there are those in our community who struggle with mental health, or those in our community who struggle with the opioid addiction crisis.”
In essence, Guelph is no longer a small town, and we don’t have small town problems anymore, Cobey said. When you take the school year population of the University of Guelph into effect, Guelph is tipping towards 200,000 residents in the next 20 years, and now there’s more uncertainty for officers in terms of what type of call they’re answering when they head out.
“Our members don’t know if they’re going to a medical call, if they’re going to a car accident, or if they’re going to investigate a violent offense,” Cobey explained. “It’s the fact that they’re always there to answer the call, and that’s why the appropriate resources and supports are important. They sustain our ability to serve the whole community.”
In it’s 2020 Budget, the Guelph Police Service is asking for the money to fire 30 new positions, 17 officers and 13 civilian. Among the potential hires is eight neighbourhood patrol officers, eight 911 dispatchers, a wellness co-ordinator, and a Professional Development and Recruiting Unit (PDRU) officer.
Cobey and the Police Board have made the point in council that these additional human resources will give police staff the tools to deal with the new demands of the job, and take pressure off current staff who are racking up a lot of overtime. The quarterly operating variance report coming to Committee of the Whole next week warns council that overtime costs for the police for 2019 might push the police budget into a negative position.
Chief Cobey said that he can’t promise that the extra funds and personnel are going to make Guelph the safest city in Canada again, but he thinks it’s the best way to reverse the trend in the statistics.
“Our goal is to make Guelph the safest, happiest, and healthiest community in the country,” he said. “I can’t guarantee that’s going to happen, but I think that’s a sound goal for us, and for the community, to strive for.”
The full interview with Chief Cobey can be heard on Open Sources Guelph this Thursday at 5 pm on CFRU 93.3 fm.