By Charlotte Prong Parkhill
Kitchener Post staff
A provincial arbitrator who just awarded Windsor police officers a salary increase of almost 12 per cent will soon be working on the contract for Waterloo Region officers.
According to the Windsor Star, police there will receive 11.7 per cent in increases over four years, dating back to Jan. 1, 2011. By next year, a first-class constable will be making more than $90,000.
That puts them well ahead of first-class constables with the Waterloo Regional Police Service, who currently make $83,156 a year and have not seen a raise since July 2011.
Officers here have been working without a contract since Jan. 1, 2012.
“We’re in the arbitration process and we’re still open to mediation with the police services board,” Bruce Tucker, president of the Waterloo Regional Police Association, said around the time of budget talks in January.
But the contract is heading to arbitration, and police services board chair Tom Galloway was keeping a close eye on the Windsor contract.
Because officers haven’t seen a raise in almost two years, Galloway said money was built into the 2012 and 2013 budget to cover retroactive pay. Whether it will be enough remains to be seen.
“It’s a certainty, virtually, that there will be retroactivity, so we have to kind of project the increase,” he said.
Galloway said the board agreed to an arbitrator in September 2012 and first met with him in November. He’s now indicated he likely won’t be available to do a full arbitration hearing, if it’s needed, until August.
“The problem with that is the guess work we have to do with our budgets. If we’ve guessed not enough, then we have a problem,” he said.
A substantial salary increase will push the skyrocketing police budget — at about 30 per cent, the biggest item in the Region’s overall budget — even higher.
That’s because salary and benefit costs drive about 85 per cent of the total police budget, which was set at $135 million for 2013, up from $126 million in 2012.
In 2012, 305 people from the police service turned up on the province’s Sunshine list — a salary disclosure list of public employees who made more than $100,000 in 2011. That’s about 29 per cent of all the employees who work there.
Chief Matt Torigian earned $241,000, while deputy chiefs make about $195,000 and superintendents fall in the $150,000 to $160,000 range.
But with a base salary of $83,000, it only takes a bit of overtime pay or a retention bonus to push many constables over the $100,000 threshold.
According to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the rising cost of policing is playing out in communities across the country. Costs for police services in Canada almost doubled in 10 years, growing from $6.4 billion in 1999 to $12.3 billion in 2009. Municipal governments paid for 60 per cent of that increase.
In January, Torigian attended the Summit on the Economics of Policing in Ottawa.
He also travelled to the UK in November with about a dozen other Canadian police chiefs to find out what the British are doing to control rising costs.
“One of the things they’re looking at is public-private partnerships,” Torigian said.
The private security firm G4S has been contracted to design, build and run one municipal police service in England.
Other privatized services include outsourcing front desk services, IT support or the management of custody cells.
“It’s groundbreaking. It’s really pushing the envelope in some respects,” Torigian said.
“But it is far too early for any of us to look at it and say, ‘Yeah, that could work in Canada.’”
As the community grows and the police budget continues to rise, he said they may have to look at which services police should really be providing and which could be done by someone else in the community, such as social and crime prevention organizations.
But cuts in service are not on his radar right away.
“We have to be very cautious about this,” he said. “We’re in a good place right now in our police service and in our community.”