Regina police union defends budget, controversial tweet as calls to defund service grow

Click to play video: 'What is the ‘defund the police movement’'
What is the ‘defund the police movement’
WATCH: Emerging from the anti-racism protests is a growing political movement to reduce funding to police forces, including the VPD. Rumina Daya reports. – Jun 5, 2020

The Regina Police Association is defending a controversial tweet that some have called tone deaf.

On Tuesday, a communications officer with the union tweeted the Regina Police Service would lose its cultural unit — which works with Indigenous communities — should the service face budget cuts.

“Choose wisely,” ended the tweet, which is in response to an online petition calling for the defunding of the service.

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Residents were quick to criticize the union, with some questioning the tone of the tweet.

“The cultural unit should be the last thing that should be cut,” pointed out residents. Others felt the tweet was threatening.

But Tuesday’s tweet came a day after similar comments were made by Regina police Chief Evan Bray, whose responsibility it is to find budget cuts.

During a press conference, Bray told reporters social programs within the service would be the first to go should cuts be made to the city’s $96-million police budget.

“If we have to reduce our budget…we have to focus on core responsibilities like 911 response, serious crimes and investigations,” Bray said.

“Some of our ancillary programs [that] deal with at-risk youth, mental health, dealing with those in schools — those programs would be looked at if we’re looking to tighten the purse strings. We’d have to focus more on delivering our core responsibilities.”

Regina’s police budget represents about 20 per cent of the city’s 2020 budget, which has been the same proportion for 30 years, Bray said.

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Yet the department is still understaffed, said Casey Ward, president of the Regina Police Association, which represents 410 officers and 200 civilians.

“By underfunding or defunding the police, a couple things could happen: job losses for our members, or it could mean members don’t have safe members out there. With the city growing, it puts officers where they’re being burnt out physically and mentally,” Ward said.

This would be a challenge as many officers are already “struggling mentally” as a result from dealing with gun and gang violence and the rise of meth in the community. Regina currently has the second-highest crime severity index in Canada behind Lethbridge, Atla.

“We have a very busy police service, and our officers have trouble keeping their head above water,” said Bray.

In one day, the Regina Police Service receives 19 calls for domestic disputes, more than two calls a day for overdoses, and numerous firearm calls, Bray said.

“Our resources are in a state where they haven’t kept pace with growth of the city. Our challenges are really tough with current resources we have.”

A counter-petition has since popped up to keep funding the Regina Police Service. Within a day, the petition received 500 signatures.

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Ward said the argument to defund police will always be around, having dated back to 2013 in Regina.

Since then, the union has made organizational changes to civilianize workers while keeping wages “fair and respectable,” said Ward.

But since the killing of George Floyd, the movement to defund police has been brought to the forefront.

In Regina, the movement calls on solutions to address underlying factors that contribute to crime like mental health, addiction and poverty.

“Would we like to see more money put into mental health, addictions, beds for detox? Absolutely,” Ward said.

But calls to transfer money to health care, education or housing are issues that are dealt with provincially says the police chief.

As for the petition asking to defund the Regina Police Service, Ward says his members are more concerned about the divide it’s creating on social media and in the community.

“Our members cherish our relationship with the community, and it seems people are trying to drive that wedge between us,” said Ward, who is fielding members’ questions to “why people on social media are trying to pin us against each other.”

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“That’s not what policing is about,” Ward said. “There’s no ‘us’ versus ‘them’. There’s ‘us’ as a whole.”

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