Sarnia police chief defends highest ever budget increase

The draft 2023 Sarnia Police Department budget proposes an 11.5 percent increase, the highest in the department’s history.

Police Chief Derek Davis said the impact of inflation this year was inevitable, including increases in wages, licenses, maintenance and equipment, which accounted for 8.8 percent of the proposed increase.

“These are just sunk costs that I need to address,” Davis said. “So whatever those agreements are, we’re going to respect them, and then if there’s anything extra, like an extra request in this budget, we’ve got to go up to the board and get the board’s approval to move it forward.”

He said the budget was broken down into three areas, uncontrollable costs, deferring needs and addressing community expectations.

“In particular the expansion of our MHEART team, which is our mental health, within the field crisis response team, implementing support units – community volunteer members, and finally, we are looking at whether we need a community outreach team”

Board member Kelly Ash, who supported the budget, said it addressed community concerns raised during a public town hall earlier this fall.

“We’re so far behind that we’re catching up like we’re going to overtake ourselves anytime soon,” Ash said. “Approving the budget is the only thing we can do. I wish we had approved more, but we did remove a lot of demands, and here are the demands.”

Mayor Mike Bradley, chairman of the board, said he was concerned by the dramatic increase in the police budget.

“We’re heading into a recession, we have high inflation, we have high interest rates, I respect and support every police budget, but I also say some things can wait,” he said. “I certainly champion and believe in mental health initiatives, but I think there’s a lot of things that can wait because this budget does have increased spending over the next year.”

Bradley and board member Dave Boushy voted against the $30.4 million draft document, calling the 11.5 percent increase frightening.

Chief Executive Derek Davis said he understands some residents may find the proposed increase difficult to accept.

“If you just look at a number and don’t put it in the context of the service and value that that number provides, then maybe yes, some people are going to be concerned about that number,” Davis said. “I would ask people to take a holistic approach to this and realize that the cost of policing is not just a budgetary cost. Victims pay a price because of injuries, a financial cost, a physical cost. There are many costs of doing police work, and there are many costs of not doing police work .”

A draft budget will be presented to City Council during the January budget deliberations.

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