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Calgary mayor addresses police budget ahead of meeting about anti-racism commitments

Click to play video '‘The first step in change is acknowledging the problem’: Mayor Nenshi on protests' ‘The first step in change is acknowledging the problem’: Mayor Nenshi on protests
(June 2020) Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi discusses systematic racism in Canada saying “we need to remember that we live in a place where this still happens.” – Jun 4, 2020

As the City of Calgary explores cost savings ahead of budget discussions in the fall, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that it is time for police to trim its budget.

More than $400 million is being allocated yearly to CPS between 2019 and 2022, according to City of Calgary budget documents.

“Obviously the police are the largest line item in our city budget,” Nenshi said. “We cannot go into the kind of budget we’re looking at where we’re looking at as many savings for taxpayers as possible, without looking at the largest line item in our budget.”

Nenshi’s comments come as calls to defund police departments continue to grow across Canada and the United States, including several Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Calgary.

The mayor told reporters Friday he’d like to see more resources dedicated to mental health response, and he’d like to have a more in-depth conversation with police officials about redirecting some of those resources from the CPS budget.

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“I’ve made it extremely clear my opinion on the matter to the police chief, which is that every other department in the city has faced austerity over the last six years, and it is time for the police to show us cost savings,” Nenshi said.  “I’ve also been very clear on the fact that we need a better mental health response system, we need different work that does a better job of fighting institutional racism in the city, and perhaps some of that funding can come from the police, perhaps it could come from other places.”

Read more: Calgary’s LGBTQ, BIPOC communities join nationwide protest to defund police

The Calgary Police Commission along with CPS chief Mark Neufeld are set to meet with city council on Thursday.

The meeting comes after three days of public hearings at city hall in July, in which more than 100 people came forward to share their experiences with systemic racism in Calgary.  Several speakers said they had been profiled and harassed by Calgary police, and that they believed those experiences happened because of their race.

The hearings were a result of the anti-police violence and anti-racism demonstrations in the city in June when thousands of people marched through downtown Calgary and called for action against police brutality and institutional racism.

“I think it’s fair to say that perhaps council has been a bit too deferential in this area because we do have to represent citizens to the police,” Nenshi said at the time. “After (the public hearings), it’s time for us to have a very tough conversation with the police.”

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Read more: ‘A master class in systemic racism’: Committee co-chair describes public hearing in Calgary

Following the hearings, the city passed several recommendations to address systemic racism in government institutions including the CPS, as well as a mandate for the city’s anti-racism action committee.

According to council documents, Thursday’s meeting aims to address the “anti-racism work currently underway and contemplated within the Calgary Police Service, and any plans for engaging in a broader conversation with the community on the future of policing in a diverse city”

CPS has submitted a commitment to anti-racism, equity and inclusion as part of the discussion at Thursday’s meeting.

The 22-page document outlines a plan to dismantle systemic racism within CPS, which includes a “transformational culture change” at CPS, an examination of all programs, policies and practices with an anti-racist and equity lens, an acknowledgement of historical and current wrongs and structural inequities, as well as a challenge to prevent complacency towards racism in CPS leadership.

“It was difficult to hear that the experiences of many Calgarians are not in line with the values we espouse, and of the hurt, anger and frustration endured due to the treatment received from the CPS,” a note in the document read. “We humbly apologize for the harm we have caused.”

The report also includes motions to expand the CPS body-worn camera program, review the school resource officer program as well as use of force policies, and establish a civilian executive director to a oversee complaints directed at CPS.

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CPS says it is planning to place more focus on its role in reconciliation with Indigenous communities, and continue working on its response to the calls to action and calls for justice in the Truth and Reconciliation Report, as well as the inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Police officials are also proposing a city-wide engagement process with the Calgary Police Commission and city administration on the future of policing and community safety.

On Friday, Nenshi encouraged Calgarians to get involved and provide feedback to the city ahead of budget discussions.

“Tell us what you think would be better,” Nenshi said. “Don’t just say ‘defund the police,’ tell us what you want to build, tell us the kind of system that would work better, so we have the opportunity to see what that looks like.”