I have received many emails this week concerned about police funding levels and asking to redirect some of those funds to community services. Here’s my response:
Thank you for your email regarding the Ottawa Police Service and their budget.
I have been personally distraught by the current events in the United States and the horrific death of George Floyd. Racism and specifically anti-black racism is a pervasive disease in that country and ours, and we must all do our part to be allies and to fight against it, every day. And yes, have our own examples of anti-black and anti-indigenous racism in this country and within our own enforcement agencies.
Let me start by saying that I agree with the call to reduce the police budget and to redirect the money to critical social services. Earlier this year, I attended a community forum on public safety where I made it clear that I do not support any increase in the OPS budget. I spoke to the urgent need to improve community resources, to offer harm reduction programs, provide recreation programs and mental health programs, and to eliminate homelessness. I believe that the best way to reduce crime is through community intervention and that our collective failure to address the basic needs of our citizens has other costs, including overdoses and other preventable issues.
While I have voted against the Police budget in the past, City Council’s role in policing is restricted. Council appoints four out of the seven members of the Police Services Board, the Province appoints three and the entire Board is mandated by the provincial Police Services Act.
Each year, Ottawa Police Services brings forward a budget which is reviewed by the Police Services Board. The result of that review is sent to City Council to for final determination. However, City Council cannot accept or reject individual items in the police budget. If the Police Services Board feels that the budget approved by City Council is insufficient to provide adequate and effective policing in the City, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission can be asked to determine what they see as the required budget.
Council can attempt to reduce the police budget by an amount like 10% or 15%. If this is agreed to by Council, the Police Services Board, and the Ontario Civilian Police Commission, we can then increase our tax rate and redirect those funds to the critical social programs we so desperately need.
There are two plans being developed right now. First, Chief Sloly has made it a priority to end racism within the police force. I do believe he is the right Chief to take this on. Many of us are watching this very closely.
Second, the City, through a public participation process and with expert consultants, is crafting a Provincially-mandated Community Safety and Well-Being Plan. This is the perfect opportunity to consider a new approach to community wellness, crime, and policing that includes social services agencies, residents, police, and City departments. I believe that the demands from the broader community to do better that you are a part of are providing us with the catalyst for change that has not been evident in recent years. I thank you for that. It is only through strong public advocacy and demand for change that we will get there.
The issues you raise are critically important, complex, and within the scope of the municipality. That doesn’t change the fact that we must, all of us, find ways to fight racism everywhere, including in our own bureaucracies and services. As long as one person is facing hatred or discrimination our job is not finished.