The issue of defunding the police could soon be headed to Calgary city council, as several councillors back a motion that would cut millions of dollars from the police budget.
The motion would direct administration to develop a framework to address service gaps and reallocate $20 million from the Calgary Police Service’s budget over two years.
Coun. Evan Woolley, who is behind the motion, said the move would better support the needs of Calgarians and mental health and addiction programs. He explained that the cuts will help the community in a significant way without dramatically hurting the police budget.
“We need to remember that one in three calls for policing have nothing to do with policing, and the police have acknowledged themselves that officers aren’t often trained to respond to the calls that they’re being asked to respond to,” he said. “My hope is that these reallocations will also give relief to the police so that they can focus on community policing.”
The motion is a response to documented police brutality incidents this year and systemic racism, Woolley said.
“Since the spring, we have had tens of thousands of people take the streets and engage us on the need for some significant reforms to our policing. We have seen a number of deeply disturbing cases in our city and across North America that are leaving Calgarians really worried,” he said.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi and councillors Gian-Carlo Carra and George Chahal have signed the motion.
Other councillors, like Sean Chu and Jeromy Farkas, say it sends a wrong message.
Chu called defunding the police a “misguided ideology.”
“The reality is Calgary Police Service has a very high number of — high 80s — approval rating as city council has low 30,” he said Sunday, referencing the recent citizen satisfaction survey where 85 per cent of Calgarians said they trust the CPS.
“Defund the police means anti-police.”
Farkas said he has heard from Calgarians that they want “stable investment in their police service.”
“That doesn’t mean giving our police a blank cheque; it means holding them accountable, ensuring that, just like every other department, they are bringing forward their cost-saving ideas,” he said.
“It’s important to remember that city council has been defunding our police for years now. City police budget has held flat in recent years. It’s actually been reduced last year,” he said, noting that this happened while the population was growing.
The city should not cut the police budget first, Farkas said.
“I think that council needs to find the money upfront for these social support organizations, and then gradually, as the need for policing diminishes, then we can talk about right-sizing the police budget,” he said.
“But otherwise, council’s clumsy and dangerous moves to try to court the abolish police movement — I think that it’s playing with fire and it’s only Calgarians that are going to get burned.”
Woolley said he will bring forward the motion at Monday’s meeting.
“There is a number of people who are liking to use this as a wedge issue, just like Donald Trump is in the United States. I am trying to take a balanced, thoughtful approach,” he said.
More than $400 million is being allocated yearly to the CPS between 2019 and 2022, according to City of Calgary budget documents.
“If councillors Farkas and others want to call this defunding the police, if 2.5 per cent reduction is defunding police, then I think they should take a bit of a lesson in budgeting,” Woolley said.