City council has started the process of changing how police are managed in Edmonton. They passed a comprehensive plan Monday that will eventually see them working even more with social agencies to help Edmonton’s vulnerable population.
Included in the long list of provisions approved by council are an $11 million reduction to the police budget spread over 2021 and 2022, which will be reinvested in supportive housing.
Chief Dale McFee said the commission had already asked the Edmonton Police Service to cut its budget, because of COVID-19 pressures and as a way of enacting their new policing plan called “Vision 2020,” that aims to help those living on the streets.
“My hope is other agencies out there may bring some money to the table and some resources as well and realize collectively we are much more effective if we do it together than if we do it in isolation and silos,” McFee said.
The chief is hoping the $11 million that will be redirected will lead to more coordination with social agencies. “We’ll start to realize when it comes to our vulnerable population, community safety in relation to this population is way bigger than the police,” he said.
“As a matter of fact, police can’t solve a lot of these issues.
“But if we collectively use our money, our resources, and our people to find better outcomes and to off-ramp them from the (justice) system, this actually could be a very good thing that could actually save a lot of money for the citizens of Edmonton, and more importantly give better outcomes for the people that actually need the services.”
The motions approved by council also include providing a submission to the Solicitor General in the province’s review of the Police Act. Council is advocating for an independent oversight mechanism like ASIRT be given a mandate for handling all public complaints about police conduct.
Council is also seeking ways to find options on how to hold Transit Peace Officers accountable for excessive use of force.
All of this work will begin with a public task force. The hope is to have terms of reference before city council in August, as a first step before filling the positions to over see the change in direction for EPS.
“I think the most important part of this motion is indeed the task force,” said Councillor Ben Henderson. “I think (we) have a really remarkable opportunity, and I think this is the question that was raised by all the people we heard from, to be in the forefront of a real re-think about what we want to do with well-being in this city.”
A parallel bylaw review will look at and possibly repeal infractions for loitering, jaywalking or even riding a bicycle on a sidewalk.
Helping guide the new thinking is a call to review one of the city’s aspirational targets. Councillor Sarah Hamilton wrapped up the session with a motion to review the ConnectEdmonton strategic goal of Healthy City and provide recommendations on revisions to make Edmonton the safest city in Canada by 2030.
“Edmonton has held the dubious title of one of the most unsafe cities in Canada,” she said in making the motion. “Ten years ago we had the name ‘Stab-monton’ and our city routinely ranks high on the crime severity index which measures the amount of violent crime that happens per capita in each major city. In 2015 Edmonton earned the distinction of being the worst place to live in Canada if you’re a woman”
The lengthy proposal comes after two weeks of public hearings, that stemmed from the anti-racism rally that happened at the Legislature and led to a march through downtown.
Councillor Scott McKeen called the two weeks of testimony as “consciousness raising” filled with “anger and blame” in the messages. He said he hopes council will “learn a lot and come up with really good strategies on how to have great outcomes.”
Included in any study that’s done is to review a 2018 consultant’s report on the EPS’ street checks policy, and find ways for police to interact with racialized or vulnerable people.
City council is also asking the still-to-be-created task force to look into a new dispatch system that could meld 911 and 211 calls together, so armed police won’t necessarily will be the first responders to what could be a mental health call.
A series of reports generated from the council motions will be back before them at various times this fall and into 2021.
“We have to be prepared that the recommendations that come forward may be bold and transformative,” said Coun. Andrew Knack who tabled the original motion. “If that is what the community determines based on all of the best research, and analysis, we have to be ready not only to listen to that, but to follow it up and actually take action.”