As Peel Police breaks ground on massive facility questions linger about its future and how community safety should be funded
October 17, 2023 By Hafsa Ahmed, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Oct. 17, 2023, Mississauga, Ont. – On Oct. 4, Peel Police put shovels in the ground for a new operations facility to support public safety needs in the rapidly growing region.
The investment in a space that will house more than 700 staff comes as the future of Peel Police remains unclear, with the dissolution of regional government in 2025, and while models for effectively keeping communities safe are being rethought.
The Operational Support Facility at 8100 Mississauga Road is expected to be completed in 2027. Located in Brampton’s northwest quadrant, which is set to see heavy growth over the next two decades, the facility will host an upgraded 911 communications centre along with critical bureaus and units. Some will operate 24/7.
“The Operational Support Facility will provide much needed resources and will improve service delivery for our residents of Peel,” Peel Police Services Board Vice Chair Sumeeta Kohli, said at the ground-breaking ceremony. “Services such as 911 communications will be moved to this new facility and will be equipped to improve responses to critical incidents.” Kohli highlighted how the Region of Peel is one of the fastest growing communities in Canada and that the Region’s services need to improve to meet the growing demand.
Chief Nishan Duraiappah told attendees the 911 communications centre will take all fire, paramedic and police calls for the Region. “At times up to 2,000, maybe up to 3,000 911 calls a day will be occurring on this ground before us,” he said. He shared that the new facility will also host the Community Safety & Well-Being bureau, the Information Technology bureau, Records Management bureau, and that the entire Traffic and Road Safety Services deployment will occur from the new building.
The Region, Duraiappah said, estimates an additional 350,000 residents will arrive in Peel over the next decade. “We do need to press into the future, not just meet current needs.” The five-storey building will replace the facility currently located at 7750 Hurontario Street, a building, according to the force, that is “40 years old with dated infrastructure.”
Peel police’s Executive Advisor, Facilities Projects, Robert Shearer, who welcomed guests gathered for the event, told attendees the current building has “come to the end of its life cycle.”
“The facility is designed with the future growth of our communities in mind, and we are so excited that it is opening right here in Brampton,” local Councillor Navjit Kaur Brar said.
Funding and budget details for the OSF have not been provided, and the PRP did not respond to The Pointer’s request for information on the capital and operating costs for the facility, or where the funding is coming from.
Questions were also asked about how the dissolution of Peel Region, which oversees and provides funding for the police force, will impact the current funding model. Once regional government ceases to exist in 2025 it’s unclear how the new facility will be dealt with, as local and provincial officials decide whether to keep Peel Police intact, or separate it into two municipal forces, one for Mississauga and one for Brampton (Caledon is patrolled by the OPP). Peel Police wants to remain intact after the rest of regional government dissolves.
The police force’s 2023 budget provides some idea of the cost for the new facility. The document includes a $794 million allocation to Divisional and Operational Facilities, highlighting that these funds will be used to “undertake the purchase, construction, renovation, and/or expansion of new and/or existing buildings.” The vast majority of this budget item, nearly $715 million, is planned to be funded through debt. It’s unclear how new and existing debt currently held by the Region of Peel will be divided between the three lower-tier municipalities when the Region is dissolved in 2025.
Chief Duraiappah alluded to the development of another space, saying, “this is not the only facility that Peel Regional Police is embarking on with the Region of Peel. We’re not really going to speak to the second facility today, but we do have an operational police division literally up the road that will be the next on the list that is going to be built.”
A service delivery review completed by Price Waterhouse Coopers in 2021 recommended Peel police consolidate its critical infrastructure, including 911, forensic services, records management and IT to free up working space in its current divisions. The review found that office, locker and parking space had not kept pace with the growing headcount of the organization.
“Officers highlight that it impacts productivity and convenience in the workplace,” the report states.
The review also recommended the creation of a centralized detention facility.
As part of its long-term facilities plan, Duraiappah said PRP will “revitalize some of the existing police facilities to meet our needs,” and that they “continue to look in the south for an increased footprint for a patrol division there as well.”
While the Region continues to grow in size, placing increased strain on existing services and infrastructure, not all members of the Peel community see the increasing investment into policing systems as a meaningful way to address some of the worsening social and economic issues facing the Region. PRP received an 8.2 percent budget increase in 2023, continuing a trend that has seen the costs to police the region rising at an unsustainable rate for many years. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic which strained municipal resources, Peel police was given increases of 5.4 percent in 2020, 3.8 percent in 2021, and 4.8 percent in 2022, seeing its operating budget rise from $445.8 million in 2020 to approximately $524.6 million for 2023.
Calls for reform to the police funding model—which saw a surge of support following the murder of George Floyd in 2020 by police officer Derek Chauvin which resulted in international protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality, as well as many communities adopting support for existing abolitionist organizations in their own cities—are still ringing through the Region today.
While some residents and taxpayers feel that more funding to police will help to address the apparent increase in crime that may arise with higher population density, others believe structural improvements that address social and economic issues at their root is what’s needed as Peel and the rest of Canada sees more people struggle with basic needs like food and housing, as well as job stability and access to affordable healthcare.
“We don’t need money in law and order, what we need money in is social services and housing, poverty reduction, food insecurity,” Laura Zilney, CEO of Hope 24/7, a non-profit organization that provides support services to survivors of relationship and sexual violence and that supports the call to defund the police, said. As shared on the organization’s website, Hope 24/7 writes that they are advocating for, “the complete reallocation of all funds allotted to the police for non-criminal interventions, specifically mental health and IPV, to the community and social service agencies equipped to manage them as safely as possible.”
She said the Peel police budget is not functioning to meet the actual needs of the community, citing how a majority of 911 calls made to PRP are related gender-based violence, but the Region is not providing proportionate funding and resources to address this issue.
According to the 2023 Budget, PRP laid over 3,000 charges relating to gender-based violence in 2022. Gender-based violence has been declared an epidemic by Brampton, the Region of Peel and the City of Mississauga. According to the Region, police responded to over 17,000 incidents of family and intimate partner violence in 2021 in Peel. From 2016 to 2021, the rate of intimate partner disputes reported to Peel Regional Police increased by 3.5 percent.
“Police have clearly shown through the use of their budget and dedication of resources that gender-based violence is not relevant in our community,” Zilney said. “We believe these resources should not be spent there, they should be spent on things that we need as a community, so food insecurity, housing, supports for newcomers, community and mental health support?”
PRP adjusted its response to this issue in 2021 by creating a specialized Intimate Partner Violence Unit, although police funding from the Region still outweighs funding for other services, such as housing support or public health.
“I think there’s a lot of issues with giving police a new 250,000 square foot facility, 700 officers to staff it, when that money could very well be spent on housing, on food, on dealing with the mental health issues and the violence that is in the community that police are not needed for because they’re not responding to it anyway,” she said.
As previously reported by The Pointer, calls for “upstream” approaches to crime and community safety, which involves addressing the root causes of social and economic issues that often result in crime, such as by ensuring people have access to food, housing and social services, have been made for years in the Region, including by Chief Duraiappah. The goal with this type of approach is to avoid involving police, who around the world and in Peel have a history of causing harm to the communities they are supposed to serve, and to address crime by eliminating the conditions for it in the first place.
However, while discussions and calls to fund social services in place of police to facilitate an upstream approach have been made, the Region continues to invest a significant amount of taxpayer money into the Peel Police service. As displayed in the 2023 Region of Peel budget, police services received 24 percent of the $2.5 billion Total Expenditures from the 2023 Tax Supported Operating Budget, dwarfing funding for many other services.
In the Region of Peel’s 2023 budget, the PRP had a capital budget of approximately $847 million. The vast majority of the PRP operating budget (94 per cent) is allocated toward employee salary and benefits, making it difficult for the Region to reduce funding levels that are connected to set collective agreements with the police union.
Zilney said that it is time that more social support and community-based services that respond directly to community needs are prioritized. She highlighted how while the health system is underfunded in Peel, the police department continues to get enough support to build and operate these new facilities.
– The Pointer
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