EDMONTON -- Edmonton's police chief says he believes there is systemic racism in Canadian policing, but warns that defunding the force would cause hundreds of officers to lose their jobs.

Chief Dale McFee spoke in front of city council Wednesday for the first time since the concept of "defunding the police" became a common rallying cry for those protesting in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minnesota.

Floyd, a Black man, was killed after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, placed his knee on the handcuffed man's neck and left it there even after he became unresponsive.

"Let's be clear. The murder of George Floyd was unwarranted, criminal, and like many of you, absolutely made my stomach sick," McFee said. "The horrific incident taking place in the U.S. puts a shadow on every police officers in most of the world, from the UK to Canada."

Despite that, the chief urged for "caution and calm" while society collectively addresses police reform.

"Systemic racism has existed for many years and dates back before anybody in this room," McFee said at city hall. "This work needs to be done and we cannot miss the opportunity…the tragic incident of George Floyd must be the catalyst of real, meaningful change."

Since then, more than 10,000 have signed a Black Lives Matter YEG petition calling on the city to divest from policing and invest in services like affordable housing, mental health programs, free transit and other community-led organizations.

McFee said he was brought in as Edmonton police chief in January 2019 with the goal of transforming the organization and aligning it more closely with public health services.

However, the chief insisted reducing funding and front line officers is not the answer.

"The social issues we're talking about don't stop at six o'clock," said McFee.

If the city were to cut $75 million of its policing budget, the amount of its last increase approved in 2019, it would amount to a loss of 500 officers "at a time when most of our communities have stated they'd like more visbility," said McFee. "It would take us back many years and undo much of what we've accomplished."

McFee also responded to calls for Edmonton police to start using body cameras to address systemic racism in the department, saying he would rather invest in dashboard cameras.

Councillors motioned to keep the discussion going at a later date, and signalled it may look at freezing police funding at 2020 levels. It will also hear more arguments for divesting funds.

"I think in principle, council agrees we'd like to do more prevention and less reaction," said Mayor Don Iveson.

"If that's the bar, then the bar is underground," said Bashir Mohamed, a founding member of Black Lives Matter Edmonton.

Mohamed said he was struck by a statistic given by the chief during his presentation - McFee said more than 90 per cent of calls to Edmonton police are considered "low-priority" calls.

"The key takeaway from this is that police actually provided a justification for defunding themselves," said Mohamed, who is no longer a member of BLM YEG but still does race equality work.

Iveson called Wednesday's meeting a first step and said the next action would be to hold a public hearing, a date for which has not been set. 

With a report from CTV Edmonton's Dan Grummett