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Protests, transit safety and war: Calgary police spend double their OT and call-out budget in '23

Members of the Calgary Police Service's mounted unit look on at a pro-Palestine rally in Calgary last November. Police Chief Mark Neufeld told city council that they are seeing a rise in the number of protests in the city.  (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Members of the Calgary Police Service's mounted unit look on at a pro-Palestine rally in Calgary last November. Police Chief Mark Neufeld told city council that they are seeing a rise in the number of protests in the city. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Calgary Police Service spent nearly double its overtime and call-out budget in 2023, according to an internal email sent to senior leadership.

The email, sent in mid-January, shows the service budgeted $11.4 million in 2023 for extra-hours pay but ended up spending $22.1 million.

Of that total, $15.5 was spent on call-outs and $5.55 was spent on overtime.

Call-outs involve bringing in an officer to cover a shift to support minimum staffing levels or other policing needs.

Budget overrun 'was a necessity'

The email calls the overspend "unfavourable" and asks leadership to "continue efforts to manage" the overtime and call-out budgets.

In a statement, CPS attributes the overspend to three main factors: the large number of protests in 2023, additional patrols required to address transit safety and increased officer presence at places of religious worship, schools and other sensitive locations due to the Israel-Hamas war.

"It was a year of continually having to augment staffing due to circumstances that were entirely unforeseen and therefore impossible to factor into our budget," said CPS in its statement.

"This level of overtime and call-out was a necessity."

Near-weekly protests

A number of protests on Calgary streets in 2023 included rallies in response to the Israel-Hamas war, the annual Dyke and Trans March and protests at library drag events.

"[The protests] became increasingly more complex to police through the year," said CPS. "They became larger, more frequent, and have generally attracted counter-protests, which increases the risk of violence and disorder."

On Wednesday, Calgary police announced the completion of an operation involving both undercover officers and outreach workers working together at CTrain stations.
On Wednesday, Calgary police announced the completion of an operation involving both undercover officers and outreach workers working together at CTrain stations.

Calgary police conducted an operation last fall involving outreach workers and officers working together at CTrain stations. (Calgary Police Service)

Coun. Courtney Walcott, who represents Ward 8, called 2023 a "one-off year" when it came to protests.

"To be honest, I'm not concerned," Walcott said of CPS's spend on overtime and call-outs. "2023 was a one-off year because of some of the major events that were primarily policed through overtime."

Increasing crime and disorder on and around public transit in 2023 also kept CPS officers busy.

In a year-end interview, Chief Mark Neufeld said about 3,300 criminal charges were laid and 5.400 warrants executed in and around transit.

A new transit safety strategy has Calgary police officers co-ordinating with transit peace officers, security guards and community outreach teams.

OT rate 'isn't sustainable'

The Calgary Police Commission, which governs the police force and provides civilian oversight, blamed the pandemic for "significantly" cutting the number of recruits and for taking a toll on employees and their families resulting in an increased turnover rate.

"These factors, coupled with a higher number of officers being on leave, created staffing shortages and increased workloads across the organization that must be managed by offering employees overtime work," wrote the commission in a statement.

The protest drew more police officers than the event in Inglewood in December did.
The protest drew more police officers than the event in Inglewood in December did.

Officers police outside of a drag brunch in January 2023. Protesters and counter protesters gathered outside the Rec Room in northeast Calgary. (Tom Ross/CBC)

While the commission says the overrun costs were offset by savings in other areas of the police budget, it acknowledged that too much overtime is "detrimental to employee wellness and isn't sustainable."

The commission says the service is addressing staffing shortages by expanding training facilities. Council and the commission also approved 154 new positions in the 2023-26 budget.

On top of that, in December, the province announced CPS would receive $8 million in funding to hire 50 new officers.

It's unknown if the volume of protests and rallies will remain high throughout 2024, but Ward 7 Coun. Terry Wong says increasing the police budget in the area of overtime and call-out would fall to the Calgary Police Commission.

"It's incumbent on police commission to do that evaluation," said Wong.

CPS's total operating budget for 2023 was $563 million.