Each Edmonton cop will receive an average of $10,000 from City of Edmonton thanks to $20 million arbitration decision

A new collective agreement between the Edmonton Police Association (EPA) and the City of Edmonton that was imposed by an arbitrator will cost the city an estimated $19.7 million, or roughly $10,000 per cop.

The EPA’s nearly 2,000 members got a seven per cent increase in compensation over the three-year life of the contract, which goes from from 2020 to 2023. Because the vast majority of the new contract covers prior years, this will just be money directly deposited into the bank accounts of Edmonton’s already highly compensated cops. 

This settlement brings the 2023 Edmonton police budget up to more than $438 million. It was originally forecast to be $384 million, an increase of more than 14 per cent. No other municipal department will come anywhere close to the significant increase that the EPS budget has seen, year-over-year. And the EPS budget is consistently the single largest line item in the City of Edmonton’s budget. 

Just over $100,000 in cash seized by the Edmonton Police in a drugs and guns bust from December 2022. Image via EPS.

Temitope Oriola is a professor of criminology at the University of Alberta and a frequent commentator on police issues. While he believes that adequate funding of the police is essential, “the Edmonton Police Service now takes a rather outsized percentage of  the city's budget. This is not sustainable. There are other agencies of city administration and NGOs that are crucial for a safe and secure society. Many of those agencies and NGOs have experienced significant cuts at a time of overall increase in police budgets,” said Oriola.  

The police budget number could still go higher. Civic Service Union (CSU) Local 52, which includes about 1,000 civilian workers at the Edmonton Police Service, is still negotiating a new contract. Those workers have also been without a contract since 2020 and they recently rallied outside city hall, asking for “no zeroes” after zero wage increases for the past five years. 

While the mantle of highest paid municipal cops in Alberta was held by the Edmonton police for some time, the latest Lethbridge Police Association contract means that they take the top spot by a whisker. A fifth year constable in Lethbridge will make $54.60 an hour in 2023 while a fifth year constable in Edmonton will make $54.53 an hour — seven cents less — in the same year. 

Ensuring they remain the best-paid cops in Western Canada was a high priority for the Edmonton Police Association. The arbitrator noted that Edmonton cops have been among the highest paid in Alberta since 2006. “The Association’s proposal maintains this historic pattern amongst the services across Western Canada,” says the arbitrator's decision on the EPA’s monetary proposal. The EPA wanted four per cent salary increases every year of the contract; but they ended up getting salary increases of 1.5 per cent  for 2021, three per cent for 2022 and 2.5 per cent for 2023.

One of the major reasons the EPA asked for such generous pay increases is because of a drop in applicants and retention issues caused “by the fact that police have been under increasing scrutiny as the public perception of police has eroded across North America,” according to the EPA’s own submissions.  

“Public confidence and trust in police organizations have declined, including with the public’s perception of the Edmonton Police Service,” reads the EPA’s submission to the arbitrator.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of their services, but arbitration hearings have a way of getting down to the truth of the matter. 

The issue of the generous benefit system for clothes and other items was also raised by the City of Edmonton during negotiations, but their proposal to update the points-based system where one point equals one dollar was quashed by the arbitrator. 

The city told the arbitrator that the current point system has built-in incentives for cops to acquire “crested clothing” and other items, such as flashlights and backpacks “whether they need them or not, which leads to waste.” The City of Edmonton also noted that that “there is a noticeable uptick in orders of these items by members in the period leading up to Christmas every year, which may not all be associated with work-related needs for the clothing or other items.”

According to Coun. Anne Stevension, this additional funding will come from the city budget and not from the Edmonton Police Service budget. This additional $20 million will also not be considered as part of the Edmonton Police service funding formula, which is set to come back to council in August.

The recommendation from the Community Safety and Wellbeing Task Force, which was struck in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd, was to freeze the police budget and invest the planned increases in non-police programs that reduce crime like affordable housing, civilian led crisis response and mental health efforts. That recommendation has been ignored as the police budget continues to swell. 

Oriola acknowledges that police budgets are a challenging issue for municipal politicians.

“The phenomenon the police deal with, crime; how it is measured and reported are much more malleable than most members of the public realize. This issue constitutes a conundrum for elected leaders interested in reining in police spending. They may be easily portrayed as anti-police and/or soft on crime,” said Oriola. 

“Nonetheless, the recourse has to be frank conversations at City Council and clear public engagement on the consequences of bloated police spending. The public needs to be made aware of the opportunity cost of seemingly limitless police spending.”