With concern about crime a continuing issue, the cuts in the budget for national security and the Police Service pose significant challenges.
National Security Minister Stuart Young declared of the sector’s $5.22 billion allocation, “We will work with what we have.”
That’s a fine expression of party solidarity, but it doesn’t seem to make practical sense, given the depth of the cuts in critical resources.
The police only received $2.28 billion of the 2020-21 allocation. The budget to pay for goods and services has dropped by half, from last year’s $515 million to $270 million.
With as much as $60 million assigned to clear outstanding debt, in addition to $11 million owed to garages, gas stations and other basic support services, it’s unclear how far this lean budget allocation will take the Police Service.
With thousands of vehicles down for repairs, Commissioner of Police Gary Griffith is also facing the possibility of having his officers grounded. At least a fifth of police vehicles are already down for repair and there’s no budget for new purchases. For members of the public calling for urgent help, that could mean a return to the days of stations responding, “Sorry, we have no vehicles.”
The drop in the allocation for Tasers, pepper spray and body cameras from $70 million to $8 million makes old talk out of any commitment to incorporating more possible non-lethal response resources, and to aiming to increase transparency in policing.
Improvements in technology will also be stymied, with just $20 million out of a $100 million budget for acquisition and training available.
Other initiatives, some intended as cost-saving measures, will be shelved entirely. There will be no fuel depots, no in-house motor pool for basic vehicle repair, no new hospital for officers and no expansion of recruitment by rising the trainee capacity of the Police Academy.
Cutting more deeply into Mr Griffith’s plans for modernising and humanising the police force is the stalling of plans for purpose-built rooms to accommodate the work of the new Sexual Victims Unit and for officers to attend virtual court.
The Opposition Leader’s warning that the police are facing a shutdown is political hyperbole, but not by much.
The financial cuts are deep, far-reaching and demand rethinking of priorities to manage dramatically diminished resources.
The country is well aware that resources are thinning, but the budget allocations to the police should have been accompanied by considered planning that involved the commissioner and his leadership team to decide how to make the most effective use of diminished resources.
There needs to be an inventive but realistic response to this new financial reality from the police, a sensible and aggressive recutting of the available funds.
Instead, the CoP is ducking comment; the National Security Minister is blustering, and the nation is entitled to worry.