Council demands more accountability from Kingston Police budget

Kingston City councillors discuss 2023 budgets during a Committee of the Whole meeting on Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2023. Photo by Cris Vilela/Kingstonist.

Although it is unusual to see a new motion come before Kingston City Council on the final meeting devoted to the upcoming year’s budget, the motion that was moved on the last evening of the 2023 budget deliberations did not come as a shock.

That’s because the motion in question was a direct response to dialogue that had occurred in Council Chambers the first night of those three meetings.

Meeting 1

On Monday, Feb. 28, 2023, Kingston City Council, which was sitting as Committee of the Whole for the purposes of budget deliberations, heard a presentation from Acting Chief of Kingston Police Scott Fraser.

As previously reported, the Kingston Police Force ran a deficit of over $1.29 million in 2022. In the report that went before the Kingston Police Services Board on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2023, a number of “special events” contributed to the deficit by way of increased overtime spending, including $83,000 related to policing of St. Patrick’s Day street parties in 2022, and $409,000 in overtime spending through September and October in the University District, particularly during move-in weekend and Queen’s Homecoming.

At its meeting prior to that, the Kingston Police Services Board approved the 2023 budget for the Force, which outlines a net spending increase of $1.7 million – four per cent more than the 2022 budget. It was that 2023 budget which Chief Fraser presented to Council on February 28, and Kingston’s councillors had their questions.

It is important to note, as Fraser did in his address, that the Acting Chief just recently assumed the position, but, having served as the Chief of Police in Brockville, it is not a position he’s unaccustomed to.

“I’m about 60 days in here,” he said at the beginning of his presentation, adding, “I’m certainly not immune to presenting to Council and being accountable to Council.”

Fraser discussed some of the issues facing the Kingston Police Force, including staffing challenges – for which the budget requested eight new officers to address – and a disproportionate amount of time having to be spent on “non-police duties”.

“The majority of our calls for service are not police-related duties. Of course, the police are the 24/7 line that’s out there, but the majority of our policing day is everything but policing. And it’s unfortunate because that’s when you see crime severity increase,” Fraser told Council.

Having new bodies on the Force will help to address that issue, but it is only part of the larger picture, he explained. Fraser said that Kingston needs the “other agencies out there” to come together, and that having other agencies to address matters like mental health issues and the opioid crisis cannot simply be from Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

“Because outside those times are not great,” Fraser said, referring to the demands on police resources when other agencies cannot address issues like mental health crises requiring medical attention. Under the Mental Health Act, when police respond to a person in distress due to mental health issues, two officers are required to accompany that person to the hospital, staying with them until they are in the custody of medical professionals. This means, Fraser said, at any given time, there will be two to eight Kingston Police officers sitting in the Kingston General Hospital emergency department waiting room, sometimes for up to six hours, depending on wait times.

“You know, we have people screaming ‘defund the police’, and as a police chief, I’m all for defunding the police, but at the end of the day, everybody who says, ‘defund the police’ never backs it up with anything that allows defunding of the police,” he said. Fraser pointed to programs like Toronto’s mental health response team, which responds to persons in distress with mental health issues so that police officers aren’t the first call in those situations.

“We cannot police our way out of it, we shouldn’t be there; having mental illness is not a crime,” said Fraser.

And while some of the questions from Council pertained to what can be done to address those issues, most of them pertained to the 2023 budget documents themselves – or lack thereof.

Of particular issue to the councillors on Monday night was the lack of information in the budget documents about the costs associated with policing Queen’s University and the University District. The fact the University puts $100,000 towards the Kingston Police Budget annually was discussed, and Councillor Conny Glenn asked if any of the increased policing of the street parties associated with university students is reflected in the increased Kingston Police budget. Chief Fraser deferred to John Howes, Director of Finance for the Kingston Police Services Board.

“We have not put the extra money into Queen’s in this budget,” he said.

Councillor Don Amos looks to Acting Chief of Kingston Police Scott Fraser for answers on what ‘Contract Services’ consist of within the police budget. Screen captured image.

Councillors demanded answers on what makes up the $3.5 million for Contract Services. Representatives with the Services Board explained that this includes cleaning and maintenance services for the building, City insurance allocation, snow removal, and “a long list of things in there”. Councillors also asked for clarity on what $758,000 for the Kingston Police fleet would cover, and were told that fleet costs were generally associated with the replacement of vehicles.

Glenn then readdressed the lack of information on costs associated with street parties.

“Not to embarrass anybody, but, in preparing a budget, I think it’s important that we know what is causing the pressures for an increase, and so that’s why the questions are coming forward,” she began. “Within your contracted services, does that include any of the costs for reaching out to other police forces?”

Fraser responded that reaching out to other police services for support actually falls under “Queen’s costs”.

“Which are not reflected anywhere in this budget?” Glenn questioned.

Fraser confirmed, “Nor were they in last year’s.”

Mayor Bryan Paterson then addressed the deficit in 2022 and asked Fraser if he could offer any reassurance that Kingston Police would be able to stick to the budget being proposed for 2023.

“I think this is my 13th budget, so I’ve been around for a few years. Every one of those years, Queen’s has been an issue. There have been parties at Homecoming and St. Patrick’s Day, large parties. Every year, Queen’s has given $100,000 towards the police budget. [2021] was the first year that I ever saw a deficit in the police budget, it was $350,000. This past year: $1.3 million,” Paterson pointed out.

Fraser, who indicated that the plan is to stay within the budget, said it was difficult for him, having only been in Kingston two years and therefore only experiencing the two years where parties were associated with Queen’s led to significant draws on policing resources. He noted that increased attendance and disturbance caused during the street parties of the past two years has been largely chalked up to “pent up energy” due to the pandemic.

“However, I think when we initiate some different strategies, that we can reduce our costs, and we can mitigate those costs,” said Fraser.

Councillor Wendy Stephen was the last to speak to the police budget, and she requested that the breakdown of police spending from the year prior – information the police services board already has – be included in the budgets moving forward.

Meeting 3

After the number of questions posed by councillors during the first meeting, it should have come as no surprise when the new motion, moved by Councillor Greg Ridge and seconded by Stephen, was read out in the late hours of the Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2023, meeting. The motion was read out after Council voted in favour of tabling it, as it was not included in the agenda.

“Whereas the Police Services Act sets out the respective roles, responsibilities and authority of the Police Services Board and the City in establishing the budget for police services; and

Whereas the Police Services Board is required to submit budget estimates to Council in the form, for the period and on a timetable determined by Council; and

Whereas following its review of the estimates, Council will establish an overall budget for the Board, it being understood that Council does not have the authority to approve or disapprove specific items in the estimates; and

Whereas Council’s authority to establish an overall budget, but not approve or disapprove of specific budget items, does not limit Council’s ability to comment on specific proposed expenditures and cost reduction measures or express views in support of any measure to reduce costs; and

Whereas the Police Services Board has a statutory obligation to see that policing needs are met and the City has a legal duty to see that the necessary resources are made available;

Therefore Be It Resolved That City Council requests that the Kingston Police Services Board submit a quarterly financial report to Council, accompanied by a briefing, beginning with a Q1 2023 operating budget report with variance explanations to come to Council by the end of Q2 2023; and

That City Council request that the 2024 Kingston Police Services budget be submitted in a form provided by the City’s Chief Financial Officer to include more detailed information and provide greater public transparency, including:

  • Budget requests by revenue and cost category with supporting details of variances to the prior year budget
  • Trends of prior year budgets and actuals / current year estimated surplus
  • Budget challenges, reduction strategies and efficiencies
  • Highlights of current year work plans and priorities and related budget implications
  • Highlights of future year priorities and projected budget increases”

Ridge, quipping he’d keep his comments “far more brief than the motion itself,” spoke to the motion first.

“This motion is all about transparency and accountability,” said Ridge, sharing that he manages federal research funds professionally and that he’d based the concept of the motion around the requirements employed in that field, where detailed quarterly financial reports on the use of those funds are filed with all governing bodies.

“I mentioned this because that is a general basic accountability piece that we see in many operations where it’s public funding, and part of my concern… was the lack of detail that currently exists, both in the report for the 2022 projected actuals from the Police Services Board, and additionally, the budget request or proposal as it was put forward for 2023,” he explained.

Ridge said his motion calls for “stronger financial reporting [and] stronger accountability processes,” so that Council can see how the funds are managed.

“This is, I think, part of due diligence as a member of a governing body, to ensure that there is this level of transparency and reporting so that we can make informed decisions moving forward,” he said.

Stephen, who seconded the motion and had already called for more detailed budget reports from the Services Board, spoke passionately in favour of the motion.

“The Police Board has the duty to see the policing needs of the community are met, and the City, in turn, has a duty to make sure that the necessary funds are provided. As Council, our role in this relationship is to ensure that there’s an appropriate spending of public funds, and we’re here to make sure that any agency or department using public money is using it responsibly and appropriately,” she began.

Stephen then pointed out that various external agencies had presented their budgets on Monday night, and requested funds had ranged in amount from $1.5 million to about $6.5 million.

“The Kingston Police Services Board asked our Council to approve [an] operating budget of over $44 million for 2023. $1.5 million is a lot of money. $44 million is considerably more,” she said.

“The budget submitted here to Council really should be detailed, because that’s how we ensure transparency and that’s our job. This year’s police budget was vague at best. And as representatives for taxpayers here in the City of Kingston, we should be told how these millions and millions of dollars have been spent,” Stephen continued.

“Furthermore, we expect a reasonable budget with sufficient detail to be presented to us for any future spending. I felt uncomfortable approving this budget as it stands. It’s too vague.”

It should be noted that, despite that uncomfortable feeling – which was echoed by others around the horseshoe – councillors had already approved the 2023 budget for Kingston Police. Stephen questioned where the Services Board had taken the budget exercise seriously, but also mentioned that she wasn’t “sure how much good it would have done to send it back” to the Services Board. Therefore, the motion before council was the next best option, she explained.

“I sincerely hope this is the only time we ever have to bring a motion like this. And to be clear, this is not meant as an attack. This is about transparency and accountability, and it would apply to any agency or department,” she concluded.

Glenn, who had also already voiced dissatisfaction with the lack of detail in the 2023 police budget documents, said she would support the motion.

“But I think maybe we need to cut to the chase here. Although there was vaguery in the budget, there was actually an absolute lack of accounting for a recurring expense, and we all know what that expense was. That’s the expense to police street parties. And it’s the elephant in the room that we often don’t like to discuss,” she stated, noting she too almost didn’t vote in favour of the 2023 Kingston Police budget because she felt it “did not represent the true cost of things”.

“And this isn’t about blaming, it’s not about throwing dispersions, but if we don’t put this sort of information out in the public view, and we don’t put it out around this table we can’t come up with solutions.”

Councillor Don Amos, who had asked a number of pointed questions during Fraser’s presentation, said, “I had asked a couple of questions to the [Acting] Chief, and I didn’t feel… I received any answers to my questions. My frustration level was very, very high at the end of that conversation. The budget was rolled up so tight that there was no transparency.”

“I asked an innocent question in regards to the [contract] services line, and I received some fluffy answers… It was $3.5 million. That’s a lot of money. And there was no real direct answers given to me,” Amos said, voicing the fact he’d vote in favour of the motion.

In fact, all members of Council that spoke to the motion spoke in favour of the transparency and detail it calls for, with Councillor Lisa Osanic pointing out the motion, “brings the police back in front of us by the end of June, and all years before [this], we’ve only seen the police once… at budget time.”

“So, the best part of this motion in my opinion is that it brings the police back now twice this year and we can ask more questions.”

The new motion, at the end of three full nights of budget deliberations, passed unanimously.

Members of Kingston City Council vote unanimously in favour of a new motion calling for more detail, transparency, and accountability in the Kingston Police budgets moving forward at the meeting on Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2023 (Councillor Ryan Boehme inset). Screen captured image.

Those who wish to see the full debate can do so, as always, on the Kingston City Council YouTube channel.

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