Last week almost 400 young women and men graduated from the Ontario Police College, setting out to begin their policing careers in 35 police services across the province. Exciting times for these young officers, every police officer remembers the day they graduated police college and put on the uniform of their local service. From this graduating class, none are coming to Ottawa.
While some of these new recruits were hired to offset growth in municipalities, the majority are filling positions in local police services created by attrition. Like any workplace, police retire and employers hire – it’s a simple practice necessary to maintain service levels. Hiring in policing takes more time though - new hires must complete police college, return to service for local training and then be assigned to a coach officer – it takes months. Police services, especially major ones, carefully monitor their recruit needs and reserve seats at the police college well in advance.
Ottawa has failed to do this and today finds itself falling far behind on the service levels in place even in the last few months of 2021 (which were far behind staffing levels in autumn of 2020). Since January of this year the Ottawa Police Service has had 34 police retirements. In addition, another 10 have resigned, leaving Ottawa with 44 additional sworn vacancies. In response the Service will be sending 13 recruits to the May police college class, a number that falls far short of simply replacing retirements. Those 13 recruits will not be active members serving Ottawa’s community until the end of the year. Any further hires in 2022 will not see the streets of Ottawa until well into 2023. Meanwhile significant gaps in service delivery will persist.
Staffing is a serious issue in the Ottawa Police Service. Data from Statistics Canada that measures policing levels in major municipalities, on a per capita basis, makes it clear that Ottawa has the lowest policing to population ratio in any major Canadian municipality. This isn’t just a little, to reach the average size of a major municipality, Ottawa must hire hundreds of police officers.
Attrition is never a surprise for employers. In last week’s class there were 83 Toronto graduates, 40 from Peel Region, 23 from Halton, and 124 from the OPP. Combining the need to fill vacancies, as well as growth, Peel is sending another 40 to the spring class and 40 more to the autumn police college class.
The Service’s recent announcement of its hope to hire 80 police officers won’t resolve the staffing crisis. In 2020 the Service announced its plan to hire 100 new officers that year alone – a plan that was shredded by the Police Services Board.
The staffing crisis isn’t a surprise for anyone. Senior leadership of the service have been aware of the need to address staffing for years. It’s time that decision makers understand that answering calls for service requires police officers. With the lowest service levels in policing in Canada, made worse by a growing level of vacancies today, Ottawa’s residents must be aware of this crisis too.
Ottawa Police Association