The Calgary Police Service said it’s committed to rooting out racism within the institution and to reallocating funds to better serve the community.
This follows public hearings in July 2020 that saw more than 186 Calgarians share their experiences with racism in the city and during police interactions.
“We’ve heard members of the community when they said that the police may not be the best first responders for various types of calls involving mental health and addictions,” Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld told council on Thursday. “We agree.“
“We commit to reallocating funds from our 2021 operating budget to design or co-design an alternative crisis response model that best serves our community,” he said.
Neufeld said the CPS plans on partnering with experts in social work, health, mental health and community outreach. Police hope a new service delivery model will result in a reduced demand for police.
“We’ve been calling for a long time for more of a law enforcement/public health approach to some of these issues, because we realize that demand is largely being driven by things that don’t turn out to be criminal.“
Neufeld told council there’s a growing consensus among police chiefs in big Canadian cities that having police respond to a mental health or addictions crisis isn’t the best use of resources.
“I think one of the reasons why things continue to go to us is because a lot of the services either aren’t available after 4 p.m. or on the weekends,” Neufeld said Thursday. “And I think that’s part of the driver of it.”
The police chief noted CPS is working with Alberta Health Services to identify people who police are frequently called for who might better be served by services like EMS or the Downtown Outreach Addictions Partnership (DOAP) Team.
Bonita Croft, chair of the Calgary Police Commission, called the era following the death of George Floyd while in police custody a “pivotal moment in policing.”
“It’s time to stand in solidarity with our Black, Indigenous and people of color — colleagues, families and citizens, to acknowledge and condemn systemic racism in all our institutions and to back up these statements to go beyond mere words with meaningful action and reforms,” Croft told council Thursday.
But Black Lives Matter Calgary said the report fell short.
“It’s a very long report that has heard some of the things that Calgarians who have been facing racism and oppression from the police department have been facing,” Adora Nwofor told Global News. “But I don’t think that is really what we need to see to really end the systematic racism that is in the policing system.”
The president of Black Lives Matter Calgary is looking for CPS to devote a percentage of its budget to social supports.
“The police should say, ‘Hey, we want to take 27 per cent, or 18 per cent, or 59 per cent and give it to the places in the community that really need it,'” Nwofor said. “That, for me, would say, ‘Oh, this is historic.'”
Ward 9 Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra asked Croft about what that reallocation of funds could look like.
“As a commission, we are looking at the substance of what it means in terms of what our role is in ensuring, to the best that we can, that funding that is provided by the city to the CPS is allocated appropriately.
“And that to the best that we can, we are guiding CPS to manage its services, to provide its services in a way that protect Calgarians, keep Calgarians safe and offer those services as fairly as possible.”
Following the meeting, Neufeld said it’s too early in the budgeting process to know what the reallocation process would look like.
“We’re basically, at this point, saying that as we look forward to 2021 and the approaching budget process, this is when we would have to look at what we might do.“
Neufeld pointed to beginning the review of the school resource officer program and “putting together resources around this and developing a strategy” by Q1 of 2021.
Black Lives Matter Calgary said racialized Calgarians have waited long enough for action.
“From what I’m seeing, the police have heard the majority of the things that we have said,” Nwofor said. “So it’s time for action.“
“We need change now.”
Justice minister threatens to pull police funding
Newly-named Justice Minister Kaycee Madu sent a letter to Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi on Wednesday calling the push to de-fund the police “misguided,” and said a fully-funded police force is “essential” to safety and security of all citizens.
Madu joined Danielle Smith on 770 CHQR Thursday, accusing municipal governments of rallying behind the controversial call to de-fund the police in order to cut policing budgets.
“What I do not support is the call to de-fund the police services as an excuse for our municipalities or as the basis for our municipalities to cut funding to police services,” Madu said.
“If that is the path that they decide to take, all it does is signals to myself that, in fact, those police grants that we give them are not required.”
Madu highlighted the Municipal Policing Assistance Grant and the Police Officer Grant (POG) total $90 million in funding the province provides to municipalities.
In a statement to Global News, Opposition NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley said the societal work to address systemic racism involves “many difficult conversations with the communities affected.”
“These threats from the minister do nothing to help move that conversation forward,” Ganley said in a statement to Global News.
“The minister should stop threatening more cuts and let municipalities consult with their communities to do what’s best for them, so we can address the root causes of systemic racism while balancing public health and safety.”
Nenshi made a brushing of his shoulders when asked about Madu’s letter by members of the media following the meeting.
“We’re having incredibly critical, incredibly important, nuanced conversations with the grown-ups in the room about really important things, about how people run their life,” Nenshi clarified. “And to time a ridiculous letter with ridiculous slogans in it while we’re having this little conversation just shows you’re not really interested in being part of that conversation.”
But the apparent about-face by Madu from cutting police funding in the provincial budget to being a vocal supporter for funding police got Nenshi’s attention.
“I am very excited about this real shift in the thinking of the province and their policy that they no longer want to de-fund the police by $13 million — approximately a three-and-a-half per cent cut — that we had to make up here in Calgary,” Nenshi said.
“I look forward to receiving a cheque for that $13 million by the end of the year.”