Fredericton’s chief of police and a city staff member are asking councillors to earmark a combined $1.3 million in next year’s budget to hire more cops and launch a pilot project to have private security guards patrol the city’s multi-use trails and commercial districts.
Chief Martin Gaudet told the city’s public safety committee recently the force needs to hire four new police officers, along with two more civilian employees to accommodate an anticipated increase in the city’s population caused by local government reform.
“The job’s not getting any easier, any safer or any less complicated,” Gaudet said, noting the city will gain about 4,500 residents when the municipal boundary is officially broadened as of Jan. 1, 2023.
“The annexation will require additional officers, and in the current state that we’re in and what we’ve observed and what we’ve heard, these officers will be well-received when they arrive.”
The new hires would cost the city $700,000 in 2023.
Gaudet presented alongside Brad Cameron, the city’s assistant director for public safety and communications, who told councillors his department wants to pilot a new “community safety services unit” from next March to November at a cost of $600,000.
Cameron said the pilot would involve contracting six to eight people from a private security firm to patrol the city in rotating pairs from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
They will not be armed, but will be uniformed and have the authority to issue bylaw tickets while on patrol primarily on the city’s multi-use trails, downtown and on the north-side’s commercial district along Main Street, Cameron said.
“We would expect them to establish a relationship with the [business improvement area] business owners, [conduct] trail patrol, identify and track graffiti, assist in identifying tent sites,” Cameron said.
They would also provide a presence in the area of Regent and Prospect streets, along with serving as a deterrent to vandalism, theft and graffiti, he said.
Last month the city held two events it branded as “community safety open houses” to let residents share their concerns around crime and public safety with police and other city officials.
Cameron said the idea for the pilot project came from feedback during those events.
“The feedback we received … was fairly clear. There’s some growing unease about feeling safe in our city,” he said.
Some councillors against proposal
The pitches by Gaudet and Cameron come as councillors finalize the details of the city’s 2023 budget.
The two resolutions on both of the requests were approved following a vote by committee members and will go before all councillors for a final decision at a budget meeting later this month.
But not all councillors were on board with the proposals, including councillors Margo Sheppard and Ruth Breen, who voted against them.
“I wish I could feel better about this — I really do, because I recognize there are concerns in the community,” Breen said.
“I’m deeply concerned about outsourcing the community safety officers. I think we lose a sense of control of the training, and I think the community skills that are going to be required of those people are expansive, and I would just like us to have more control of that.”
Breen also described hiring four new police officers next year as “jumping the gun,” considering the city has not received guidance from the provincial government on how many new officers would be needed to police those annexed areas.
Mayor Kate Rogers approved the resolutions, and before voting said councillors have heard successive police chiefs say more officers were needed to police the city.
“Because of the [fiscal] restraint we’ve had to show in years past, we haven’t been able to maybe provide the coverage that police chiefs have felt [was needed]. This year, potentially we’re going to be able to do that,” she said.
Rogers said for the community safety services unit, there’s “always a balance” that needs to be struck between addressing concerns around safety, while not doing so in a way that threatens people.