Sarnia Police want to hire four more officers to address staffing and mental health pressures that have resulted in long-term leaves and two officers taking their own lives.
“I’m truly concerned about the burnout factor and stress on our officers,” Chief Norm Hansen states in a recent letter to the Sarnia Police Services Board.
Adding four recruits to the complement of 111 sworn officers would cost an additional $341,495 next year and increase the police budget by 1.4%, the service said.
The issue will be debated during budget deliberations later this year.
In a letter to the board, Sarnia Police Association president Miro Soucek said the reality of modern policing means officers deal with the worst of human behaviour. They confront sudden death and traffic fatalities, suicide, robberies, violence, sexual assault and the exploitation of children.
“Within the last several years, we have lost two of our members to suicide,” Soucek said.
Another 14 member of the Ontario Provincial Police have taken their own lives in the past two years, he said.
“Any time we can become more efficient by supplying more officers for the road, I think that’s a good thing,” Chief Hansen said, noting Sarnia’s service hasn’t increased in size for “at least a decade, maybe two decades.”
According to the Police Association of Ontario, Sarnia has fewer uniformed officers than similar sized cities.
Internal numbers presented to the police board indicate the average Canadian city in 2017 had 188 uniformed police officers per 100,000 citizens.
With a population of 72,000, Sarnia’s pro-rated staffing rate is 155 officers per 100,000, about one-third below the average. The city also has 69 civilian staff.
Peterborough, with 78,000 residents, has 131 officers and 53 civilians, while Sault Ste. Marie, with 77,000 people, has 133 officers and 61 civilians.
Hansen said a new mental health worker pilot project and the recently opened Collision Reporting Centre will increase efficiency.
Mayor Mike Bradley, who chairs the police board, commended the department for keeping staff numbers and budgets in check. He said he agrees with the recommendation.
“It’s time to move forward and to strengthen the ranks,” he said. “Public safety, fire and police are paramount.”