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Monday, January 16, 2012

Branscombe to mayor: "Grow a spine!"

This week the budget discussions will begin in earnest.

On the weekend, staff and councillors were available in several shopping malls to provide information on the budget, answer questions and accept suggestions from the public.  The public will also have an opportunity to appear before the Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee (SPPC) on Tuesday afternoon.  So far, only four organizations have reserved space on the agenda, but no doubt there will be others to appeal for their concerns and interests.

On Wednesday, the Services Review Committee will receive public feedback on the budget as well as examining some business cases, including one from a group called the Latin American Career Development Centre which sounds remarkably like the Multicultural Economic Council proposed earlier last year.

And there’s also an item pertaining to protocol regarding the Police Services business plan for 2000-2003 which should prove interesting.

The police budget is, of course, central to the city budget.
Spending on police protection is the single largest factor in the budget, claiming $445.84 for the average taxpayer out of a tax bill of $2,405. It’s also a budget that’s been growing more rapidly than other services. While most services have been held to a zero increase, the police budget target was set at 3% increase to recognize that a wage increase would be the likely outcome of the ongoing arbitration. Even at that, the Police Services Board decided it was not enough; they passed a budget calling for a 4.8% increase to allow for the hiring of more officers.

Council’s representatives on the Police Services Board, Mayor Fontana and Councillor Bryant, concurred with the decision despite the fact that they had also concurred with the council’s 3% target. But then, when the response was brought back to council and other members rebelled, they reverted to the original demand. The vote was unanimous: all boards and commissions would have to meet their targets. Watching the debate and the vote at that time, I wrote

I was amazed. It’s the first time that council has indicated the necessary backbone to stand up to the police. Let’s see if it can maintain that resolve when the police come back with warnings of layoffs and crime in the streets.

Those warnings came last week. First, a string of arsons.  Next, a series of bank robberies.  Add in a gang shooting and a police standoff at a townhouse complex where a man had barricaded himself inside and you have the makings of an unprecedented crime wave.

According to the London Community News, the nine hour standoff involved “more than 10 police cruisers, four emergency response vehicles carrying about 15 tactical officers, four police SUVs, a police command centre vehicle and a light-armoured vehicle”. The police acknowledged that they had used up a lot of their resources but felt it was justified because, although the man was alone, he might have been armed.

The upside was that these events drew some attention away from the Mayor’s State of the City address which had been controversial, and not necessarily in a good way. The speech had been little more than a cheerleading exercise, touting past achievements and predicting good times to come. There was little mention of the economic downturn, the unemployment rate, the loss of good jobs, let alone how he planned to deal with these issues. And then, the equipment didn’t work as planned. “Little Joe,” the robot which was to be the star of the event, failed to perform as planned. He had run out of power.

It’s at that point that you send in the clowns. In this case, it was the event song, written and performed by Jim Chapman, former radio host and good friend of the mayor. All were encouraged to join in clapping along with the jingle which declared London to be the City of Opportunity and encouraged listeners to “imagine a factory where none was before”. It was all too much in a city that has lost job after manufacturing job and where hundreds of skilled workers are locked out by a profit-making employer because they refuse to take a 50% pay cut. The song, which cost $1800 to produce, has been much tweeted and parodied.

But later, inevitably, the mayor was asked if, given the crime spree that had been occurring in the city, should the police get more resources. The mayor wavered. “If that’s what’s required to snuff it out…” he replied. He was prepared to do yet another about face on the police budget and hand over a 4.8% increase.

This was on the Steve Garrison show on Radio 1290. Next up was Andy Oedman for the 9 a.m. slot. He got in touch with Nancy Branscombe.

Branscombe is the chair of the Services Review Committee and has been a vociferous advocate of spending restraint by police. Last year she was alone in voting against a police budget that didn’t come in on target .

Branscombe didn’t mince words. Pointing out that the SPPC had voted unanimously to hold the police to 3%, she said, “The taxpayers are tapped out. Joe had better be showing some leadership on this.” Noting that the mayor had voted in favour of a 4.8% increase at Police Services Board and then supported holding them to 3% when the issue was dealt with at committee, his now reverting to a more generous offer was too much. “Nobody knows where he stands on this,” she said. “He needs to grow a spine.”

When asked how police would make the cuts and deal with a crime wave, Branscombe responded, “That’s theirs to figure out. Whether it’s 3% or 4.8%, that should be factored into the budget. Their job is to figure it out and manage their budget.”

As to the crime wave, she pointed out that that’s why they’re there, to fight crime. It shouldn’t come as some great surprise; it happens.

“It’s a joke among taxpayers that at budget time we seem to have all these catastrophes,”she said.

But overall crime rates in London are very stable from year to year. And it’s the predictability that allows for planning resources.

The police personnel themselves will be offered an award, probably in the neighbourhood of 3%. They will be expected to live their lives within those means. They have to plan to do so. And should an unexpected expense come their way, they will accommodate it. They won’t be able to ask for more. 

That’s what families do. That's what businesses do. That’s what cities do.

Surely the police department is capable of that kind of planning too.

The question is, will council demand it? Will council grow a spine?


Frank Sapala said...

Gina Barber, wanted to send this massage for a long time.
Thank you, for your continuing, outstanding service to Londoners.

Charlie Darrow said...

Send in the clowns indeed.

On second thought, "Don't bother, they're here."

Back when Frank Drea was Ontario Minister of Consumer and Commercial Relations in the late seventies, he began a crusade to "clean up the topless joints."

An astute observer at the time commented, "They can't do anything about the real problems, so they get a gimmick to ride."

That, of course, is the whole point of Joe's stupid cheerleading and song.

Charlie Darrow

Anonymous said...

If I was a cynic, I would suppose an undercover officer started the "gang" related spree.

Amazing, there are so many officers available for one barricaded citizen.

Anonymous said...

"The police acknowledged that they had used up a lot of their resources but felt it was justified because, although the man was alone, he might have been armed."

They should have checked the gun registry. LOL

Chuckles, T. C. said...

Jim has the makings of a good clown in many ways, but he does seem a bit dyspeptic for the job.

Anonymous said...

I just read the first sentence of your blog report and I don't need to know anything else. As far as I'm concerned the police aren't worth what they claim it costs for them to keep us and our property safely protected from harms way. In fact, from my point of view, they should be reimbursing some of us Londoners for services unrendered plus continuing damages caused by their derliction of duty.

Anonymous said...

um, whose running the police department, an arms dealer or something?
There's been plenty of standoffs that ended without any officers or innocent bystanders being hurt and we've never before needed "more than 10 police cruisers, four emergency response vehicles carrying about 15 tactical officers, four police SUVs, a police command centre vehicle and a light-armoured vehicle”...and a school on lockdown.

Why no helicopter? What if the desperate lone male escaped through the attic venting system and ran away through Greenway Park along the train tressel and hopped a boxcar?
All they needed was one can of tear gas. How much does that cost?
I don't think the taxpayers should be charged for the rest.
The police only used it because they had it. It wasn't necessary.
A lot of London's finest earned a heafty pay that day.

G. Babbitt said...

I know it seems trivial, but this song issue is very disturbing. We have a mayor whose ethical radar doesn't see a problem with paying a man whose claim to fame is commenting on local politics for work that could be done by hundreds of other people. Even more disturbing is Mr. Chapman's comment in Reaney's blog, claiming the jingle is aimed at older people who make these kinds of decisions. Wow, these guys don't understand globalization at all.

Thanks for the info Gina