When I was a Regional Councillor, every year we struggled over the budget, trying to get it down to a 1 or 2 percent increase. We would debate adding a million to our social service budget for “unnecessary” items that had been cut back by the provincial government. Things like eyeglasses, walkers, food hampers and dental care for the working poor. Eventually we put money towards some of these necessities for the poor. Money, but not enough, was added for social housing. Transit fares were increased. And so on. We would get the budget down to our 1 or 2 percent goal.
Then the police budget was added. If we were at 1 percent increase, the police budget would add another 1 percent (even though the police budget might actually be going up 3 to 5 percent or more). Half the Region’s budget increase was policing. Other than sending the police budget back to the police board to par down, Regional Council had no way of cutting or changing the police budget due to provincial law. We had to pay it from property taxes though.
The police are expensive. The WRPS 2020 budget, as passed, had an increase of 6,25% for a budget of almost 200 million dollars. This came out to a 1.38% property tax increase versus a Regional operating budget of 1%. Over 90% of the police budget goes to compensation ( paying people).
Defunding the police does not mean getting rid of the police. We will always have sex traffickers, assaults, child porn, fraud, murders, and theft. What defunding the police means is moving funds to what the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council has been advocating for over 25 years. Not well being, but social development. We need to stop pulling drowning people out of the water and go up stream to stop them falling in.
In an interview with NPR, Alex S. Vitale, the author of the 2017 book The End of Policing, states:
One of the problems that we’re encountering here is this massive expansion in the scope of policing over the last 40 years or so. Policing is now happening in our schools. It’s happening in relation to the problems of homelessness, untreated mental illness, youth violence and some things that we historically associate police with.
This also includes illegal drugs and all the problems they bring with them. Fentanyl and meth are still a crisis. They did not go away when COVID-19 appeared. Poverty and unemployment have increased. Social problems are not the responsibility of the police but they end up the last resort in times of crisis.
A few years ago, a family member disappeared and we were afraid he was going to commit suicide. When he was found, the police had a civilian mental health team with them. The team defused the situation and the police did not have to go to emergency with our family member (who is fine now) . Police and EMS spend a lot of unnecessary costly time in Emerg waiting for their patient to be moved over to hospital staff.
Counselling, drug and addiction services, homeless shelters and social housing, immigrant and employment services, youth services, sexual assault counselling, mental health, Family and Children’s Services, the food bank, Community Justice Initiatives and more are always chronically short of funds. Recently many have had government funds cut by the province. In this time of pandemic, their charitable donations have dried up.
What if all the organizations in our community that practice crime prevention by social development got a 5 or 6 percent increase per year from our governments. Police would not be the organization of last resort for addiction, mental health, poverty and homelessness emergencies. We wouldn’t need so many police and those we would have could turn their attention to serious and complicated crimes. They would be properly defunded.