A recent CBC article shared the responses of several Regional councillors regarding the 2022 budget. You can read their responses here, but I wanted to share a few things that stood out to me from those responses.
First, Councillor Clarke stated "Inherent in the word 'reallocation' is the assumption that not only must money be invested in preventative and supportive services, but that that money must be matched by equivalent – or greater – reductions in police funding ... I don't agree with that.” I think this ignores the harms that policing has on communities, especially for Indigenous and Black folks, and those experiencing poverty or are unhoused.
Clarke also said “the longer-term impact of (police) reform, combined with more spending on outreach services, "may result in reduced reliance on policing ... and potentially savings in police spending. (But) it takes time for [outreach and affordable housing] investments to pay off." I agree that it takes time for some of these efforts to really take root. However, we must also decide to invest heavily in those upstream services. We can’t continue to have policing be such a large budget line, with all other services and supports receiving much, much less investment, and then be surprised that the upstream services aren’t providing the ‘results’ we had wanted.
Clarke said it was clear delegations at Wednesday night's public input meeting had a united message but noted "this is, in fact, a matter on which the larger community is very divided." While I agree that there are concerns about reducing the police budget, but many, many people support strong and continued investment in compassionate life-affirming services and organizations, so let's start deeply investing in those.
Clarke concludes: “I don't believe the time is right for defunding of police. I believe we have a lot of groundwork to do, first." Well, then let’s get to it! We had very similar conversations at last year’s budget time and here we are again. Let’s get serious about investing in alternative approaches so we don’t find ourselves having the same conversations for the 2023 budget.
Councillors Jaworksy and Shantz both mentioned that the WRPS made a good case for why they need more funding. Jaworsky noted, "The [police] chief provided a lot of compelling information on how to improve service levels in 2022, as we are a growing community, and resourcing issues that cause delays," . And Shantz said, “But, crime is increasing in the region as are calls for police service and Larkin has indicated the service needs more officers.” To me, this demonstrates how we prioritize the police over all other services and supports in our community. When do organizations like House of Friendship, the Sexual Assault Support Centre, or any of the many other organizations doing important work get their own budget meeting with Regional councillors to make the case that they also need more funding? We saw that House of Friendship was facing closure for the first time in its history – might they, and other organizations, also make good cases for much needed funding? I suspect so, but they do not have the same opportunities to do so.
Councillor Kiefer stated “I do know that the police have provided and will continue to assist in outreach services and mental health issues.” This makes me think that some of the councillors missed the point of several delegations who were calling for less police involvement in mental health calls and support for a police-free, community-led alternative.
He also said he felt like many delegations who spoke before council Wednesday night "did not have all the facts correct." This seems like a pretty big claim to not be followed up by any examples. I hope Councillor Kiefer will clarify what facts he thinks were incorrect. He, and all of the councillors, also had the opportunity to ask clarifying questions of any of the delegates but chose not to.
Councillor McGarry highlighted the importance of preventative and supportive services, mentioning Cambridge, "where the city and region are moving toward establishing a consumption and treatment site, which will ease police pressures and involvement in overdoses." This is just one example of what investing in alternative, police-free models can look like. Let’s see more of it.
Councillor Nowak, and several other councillors, mentioned the need for 'balance'. I’d love to see balance in our funding, actually! But right now, the police budget is prioritized over all other funding – so, sure, let’s bring some balance to this and shift more funding to preventative services.
Councillor Shantz said that, “she heard the delegations ask for more funding for upstream initiatives to prevent crime and to freeze funding for the police service (but) didn't hear what services do they want frozen or reduced?" I suspect that’s largely due to being told constantly that the Region doesn’t control specific budget lines in the police budget. However, I am sure most delegations have some thoughts on areas that could be frozen or reduced. For me, the main areas that come to mind are mental health calls and traffic enforcement. But there are many other options as well.
I don’t know how you listen to delegate after delegate at the Dec. 8th meeting and come away with Councillor Nowak’s conclusion of "We need more police presence, not less.” We have been trying to police our way out of some of these issues for far too long. It’s time to re-imagine what community wellbeing can really be. I’d encourage all of our councillors to listen to this podcast.
Thankfully, Councillor Galloway raised some important points. "There is a growing realization in the community that we can not police our way out of crime," Galloway said. "Investments in upstream activities is best. I want to invest in measures that will reduce demand on police and that will deal with social determinants of health that will improve human outcomes and reduce criminal justice and health-care systems interactions.”
I think focusing on the social determinants of health, as opposed to policing, is a really great start to move us towards a more compassionate and caring community.