Debate over police funding happening at City Hall Tuesday
EDMONTON -- Edmonton City Council debated Tuesday calls from the public to cut its police budget.
A motion sits before council to reexamine systemic racism within Edmonton Police Service.
Of the recommendations proposed in it, the motion asks administration to submit reports by September on the volume of police calls driven by social or public health factors that could be responded to by interagency partnerships, joint analysis with other Alberta police agencies on the "cracks in the system" that drive higher crime and demand for service, and create a taskforce that will, among other things, examine defunded police models.
It also asks:
- that $11 million from the EPS budget be redirected over 2021-22 to agency partners;
- that administration explore creating a joint dispatch centre;
- the Edmonton Police Commission work with the Edmonton Public School Board to review the school resource officer program, suspending it in the interim; and
- a process be created for EPS to send officers without weapon or a different uniform to low-risk calls.
"If that police officer is not wearing a gun, and is not wearing a dark uniform, and is not as threatening as they otherwise appear to be, perhaps we get better reactions," suggested Ward 9 Coun. Tim Cartmell, who proposed several of those amendments in livestreamed discussion. He originally proposed an amendment to reduce the budget by $16 million, but later changed it to $11 million.
He said he had been very moved by the stories of more than 140 speakers who shared their experiences with police with Edmonton councillors over five days earlier in the month.
- READ MORE: Edmonton police practices at the centre of public hearings this week
- READ MORE: Police funding up for debate in city council next week
Many of the speakers called for the EPS budget to be reduced, as has the local Black Lives Matter chapter.
The push across North America for police agencies to be defunded is based on a proposal to reallocate public dollars to social and community services.
Cartmell said he'd be keeping in mind that EPS already took a $5-million reduction because of COVID-19, among other factors, before supporting a reallocation of police resources.
"Doing that means understanding all of the funding models, all of the resources, all of the energy, all of the money that goes into the entire ecosystem, not just the police service part of it," he told CTV News Edmonton.
"Understanding what outcomes you get for all of that investment, we need to know that first, before we start moving money around arbitrarily."
According to EPS Chief Dale McFee, the force is ready for a change.
"What we saw from the hearings, there were many ideas presented that we agree with," he told council.
"This has been my vision for EPS since 2019, and I can firmly stand behind the fact that this what I was hired to do."
In a statement to council on Tuesday, he said he stands behind many of the proposals made but that the question isn't "about one or the other" when it comes to funding police and social services.
"There’s two sides to this: We have a vulnerable population that’s overrepresented in every human service system, which is the front end of the system, and we have a group of individuals that disproportionately responsible for over 50 per cent of recidivism in the justice system," McFee told council.
"These are violent people that sometimes obviously need to be rehabilitated in a jail cell. Don’t mix those two because we need to do both at the same time, and that’s our commitment to work with you.”
He reminded councillors their city has the third-highest crime rate in Canada: "There’s some bad people who choose to disrupt and harm our citizens.”
Questions of the chief and the Edmonton Police Commission went into two rounds Tuesday afternoon, with councillors asking about police processes, training attitudes, and viability of the proposals, all falling within a larger question of how to create systemic change.
Toronto's mayor recently passed a motion for reform of that city's police department, but rejected a cut to its budget. The council said instead of a 10 per cent – or $107-million – budget cut, it was choosing a more incremental approach that implements mental health call response that doesn't use weapons or violence, a police budget breakdown to review what cost savings could be found and invested in community services, and to equip all officers with body-worn cameras by New Year's Day.
- READ MORE: Toronto city council passes motion on police reform, but rejects cuts to budget
- READ MORE: What defunding the police could look like in Canada's largest city
EPS has pointed out that it already has a dedicated program that pairs officers with mental health professionals. The Police and Crisis Team unit is a partnership between police and Alberta Health Services that was started in 2004.
McFee added he supported and welcomed other items listed in the proposal, like a budget review and more integration of police and community services.
As of 5:30 p.m., council was still discussing amendments and were not expect to hold a vote Tuesday.
EPS' budget, expected to grow to $388 million in 2021, remains the city's largest expense, taking up nearly 15 per cent of the city's operating expenses.
Black Lives Matter has petitioned Edmonton city council to disapprove an increase to the EPS budget and redirect a $75-million boost to affordable housing and mental health programming, free public transit and community organizations that support marginalized people.
With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson