City Hall Cuts $35 Million From Police Budget

Despite Cuts, Crime and Traffic Deaths Down Since 2009

One hundred and forty temporary cops saw their contracts expire in September. Montreal has the second largest police force in Canada with 4,600 full time officers on duty. Photo Riley Sparks

Even cops are affected by the economy.

One hundred and forty police officers saw their contracts with the Service de Police de la Ville de Montreal expire this month after city hall cut $35 million from the police force’s budget.

In May, Mayor Gerald Tremblay announced potential shortfalls of $400 million in the city of Montreal’s budget. Since provincial law prohibits municipal governments from running a deficit, the city has been forced to cut corners.

“We’re slowly coming out of a recession, which is positive, but we’ve had to find ways to cover the shortfall,” said Darren Becker, spokesperson for the city of Montreal. “We’ve announced a budget freeze through 2011 and we’ve asked our boroughs to get ready for cuts.”

The 140 officers in question now join the ranks of the jobless in Quebec, where the latest labour force survey has the unemployment rate remaining steady at 8.2 per cent for the second consecutive month.

The police officers were serving two-year internships with the SPVM and were set to replace 160 officers retiring at the end of this year.

Cadets coming out of Quebec’s national police school apply for two, one-year internships, where they complete 2,400 hours of fieldwork in the hope of earning a permanent job.

Newly-graduated cadet Nick Agostino began looking for work on Sept. 27. He does not expect to find a job in Montreal.

“When I was at police school, I kept hearing about job cuts in Montreal,” he said. “It’s tough, you know, you’re doing your exams, you’re going through your training and you hear about job cuts.”

For Agostino, an internship at the SPVM would mean working for the second largest police force in Canada alongside 4,600 other officers in an often exciting environment.

“There is room for advancement at the SPVM,” said Agostino. “You have more detectives and sergeants and captains than any other force [in Quebec].”

Becker said Marc Parent, Montreal’s new police chief, is looking at the force’s budget to try and figure a way around the SPVM’s precarious employment situation, but could say little about the prospect of hiring new recruits until the city tables its next budget in November.

Police union bosses have demanded that the 140 officers be re-hired, citing concerns over the police’s ability to fight crime with fewer officers.

“It really hurts the force’s morale,” said Martin Desrochers, the communications director for Fraternité des policiers et policières de Montréal. “These young officers want to work, they are trained to be effective police officers, but they have to live with this uncertainty and find work somewhere else. This is just a symptom of a city that underfunds its police department.”

Factoring in the cuts, the SPVM’s annual budget still exceeds $500 million. Furthermore, crime is down since last year and the city is on pace to set record lows for deaths caused by automobile accidents.
“Montreal remains one of the safest cities in the world,” said Becker. “The numbers speak for themselves.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 07, published September 28, 2010.