Edmonton city council voted Tuesday to look at reducing the Edmonton Police Service budget by $11 million starting next year.
The money would be redirected to community resources and initiatives.
“While no final budgetary decisions were made today, we did signal ultimately, an intent to redirect $11 million starting next year from policing and into housing and other prevention and community safety initiatives,” Mayor Don Iveson said.
“The final word on the details of this redirection of funding will come in the fall when council discusses the fall budget amendments.”
Iveson said that will give the Edmonton Police Service time to adjust and social agencies and the city time to prepare and refine.
An amendment to provide specificity around how that $11 million might be spent was carried.
“Systemic racism does exist in our society and in our city and in our public services and institutions, including policing.
“We hope this motion will help address this issue and move Edmonton towards a more equitable and just future,” the mayor said.
Another amendment — to cut the EPS budget by $16 million — did not pass.
There is also a recommendation to increase accountability for when police interact with racialized individuals and a deeper look into calls that involve mental health issues, homelessness, and to consider how social work and mental health workers might respond without police intervention.
Iveson said there was also an amendment to look at certain bylaws and how Edmonton officers enforce them. For instance, is cracking down on simple bylaw infractions like jay-walking the best use of time and expense?
There was no decision on the overarching policing motion; that debate will continue July 2.
Iveson noted Edmonton was only city in Alberta to allow public hearings on this issue.
“It does matter and it is historic.”
EPS Chief Dale McFee said “there’s 100 per cent support from police” for council looking at ways to deliver supports better.
“We need to become a voice and become an advocate,” he said.
“This is much bigger than moving money around,” McFee added, saying it’s really about being part of larger systemic change, breaking down silos and doing things differently.
The police chief said he heard “very heartfelt stories… both positive and negative” at the public hearings.
“There’s a lot of lessons to learn… We have to change the things we can control.”
He said hearing from the community “re-engerized me that we need to move forward.”
When it comes to the $11-million change, McFee said “we think it’s something that we can certainly maneuver.”
“It’s a reasonable number… and shows that police are at that table and also willing to change.”
“We all have to challenge ourselves on this.”
In recent weeks, councillors have been debating how policing is conducted and funded in Edmonton.
More than 100 speakers expressed their concerns and suggestions at numerous public hearings. Councillors heard from 140 community members, as well as EPS and the Edmonton Police Commission.
Transit peace officers could also see changes, with the introduction of an oversight mechanism similar to Alberta Serious Incident Response Team (ASIRT).