Community groups call on Ottawa election candidates to tell Ottawa residents the truth about the Ottawa Police Service

October 3, 2022 – Ottawa, Ontario – Several Ottawa community groups are calling on Ottawa election candidates to tell Ottawa residents the truth about the Ottawa Police Service. They say candidates have been making claims about the Ottawa police, either directly or indirectly, that aren’t supported by facts.

The groups point out that mayoral candidate Mark Sutcliffe says the police budget needs to grow, not shrink, because people are worried about crime and safety. He says, if elected, he would open a new police station in the ByWard Market and add 100 more officers over four years. In fact, OPS budgets have steadily increased over the last 20 years, including a $13 million increase in 2020 in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite this, the OPS’ own statistics clearly show there’s no link between increasing police budgets and reducing crime. In fact, in many wards for which the police provide statistics, crime went up after the police got their annual multi-million dollar increase. Sutcliffe also suggests, without any supporting evidence, that hiring more police will help the police address domestic violence, hate crimes and gun violence. However, according to Ottawa police data, only 14% of domestic violence reports to police resulted in charges being laid in 2020…meaning police didn’t lay charges 86% of the time. Last July, the Ottawa Coalition to End Violence Against Women cited a Globe and Mail story that found that for every 5 women who report sexual assault to police, the police assume one is lying. As a result, only 5% of survivors of sexual violence ever report their assault to police. More police officers won’t change this. It will simply mean more officers not believing women. As for hate crimes, the OPS’ own stats show they only resolve less than a quarter of criminal hate crimes. The most recent evidence, including OPS member support for the Ottawa occupation, suggests hiring more officers would simply lead to more officers supporting those who promote hate.

Mayoral candidate, and former OPS officer, Param Singh says supporting the Ottawa Police Service is essential to increase the police officers per 100,000 population ratio. And he’s not alone as several candidates cited the need to increase Ottawa’s “cop to pop” ratio. They say Ottawa has a lower cop to pop ratio than cities like Montreal and that Ottawa needs to catch up. What they don’t provide is any proof that cities with higher cop to pop ratios are any safer. And that’s because there isn’t any proof. However, there’s lots of evidence that increasing the number of police officers actually makes cities less safe for two reasons. First, giving the police more money means not giving it to services that are proven to make us all safer, like mental health and domestic violence services and affordable housing. Second, hiring more police officers means more officers with the potential to harm members of marginalized groups. Hiring more officers will simply mean more officers with the potential to use force disproportionately on Black, Middle Eastern and Indigenous people as the OPS’ own recently released data shows they do now. 

Despite the complete lack of evidence to support calls for more police funding, candidates continue to do so with many citing examples of violent crime as the reason. However, they all leave out the most important points. The Ottawa police refer to calls where there is “imminent threat to life; actual or potential danger for bodily injury or death; or crimes in progress or imminent” as Priority 1 calls, and according to the OPS’ statistics from their 2021 Annual Report less than one per cent of their calls were Priority 1. The other 99% of the time they’re sitting at construction sites, directing traffic or going to mental health calls where Ottawa has seen people in need of help ending up dead. Candidates have promised to get police out of things like mental health response but haven’t said they’ll cut the police budget in line with the reduced workload. In the private sector, this would be like a company cutting a big chunk of one of its business unit’s work – but keeping the unit’s same budget.

Many candidates have promised to do evidence-based reviews of all City services to ensure they’re cost effective and providing value for money – but then say they’ll raise the police budget with no evidence that the police are efficient and currently providing all Ottawa residents with value for their nearly $400 million budget. Few candidates have pointed out that, in 2021, the City spent only $98 million on Public Health, $2.5 million on climate change and $15 million on affordable housing or that 95 social service agencies in the city were forced to split just $27 million. They have also failed to mention that the budget for the City’s new antiracism strategy was $100,000 while the Ottawa Police Service’s 2022 drycleaning budget is $495,000.

Finally, the claim was made that it’s not within City Council’s jurisdiction to defund the OPS. However, the fact is, the new Board and council will have the power to approve or not approve, the OPS budget. If they really want to keep Ottawa residents safe, they’ll reject further OPS budget increases and, instead, demand and vote for a budget that frees up funding for things that actually keep all Ottawa residents safer.

“We are simply saying candidates should adhere to the same principles as court witnesses and tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about everything – including the Ottawa Police Service”, said Robin Browne, coordinator of the 613-819 Black Hub.