After hours of deliberation Wednesday, Edmonton city council voted to allocate less funding than originally planned for the Edmonton Police Service budget in 2022.
The EPS had expected to see $11.9 million added to its $383-million budget. But during budget deliberations at city hall Wednesday, council instead voted to reallocate $10.9 million to social agencies that will help with things like mental health calls, homelessness and incidents where police may not be the best response.
Council did vote in favour of adding $1 million to the police budget, to cover staffing costs for the new National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said council made a “very balanced decision” to continue to provide resources to the police while at the same time, looking differently at community safety.
“I think Edmontonians understand that we need to have a very comprehensive, coordinated, integrated approach to community safety where policing will play a role,” Sohi said.
“But at the same time, we need to make sure that we are actually reducing the need for policing services by investing into prevention, investing into housing, investing into tackling mental health issues, investing into making sure people don’t live through the pain that they live through every day because of historical trauma, because of the houselessness issues, because of the opioid crisis. I think that’s where we need to continue to invest more that will reduce pressure on the police for the long term.”
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The mayor said the city allocates 22 cents from every dollar of taxes it collects to policing.
During a presentation to council last week, police chief Dale McFee said he wasn’t looking for more money. He stressed to the relatively new council that the police service is worth investing in to keep Edmontonians safe.
McFee told council last week that in the last 12 months, overall calls for service are down seven per cent. However, he said violent crimes have increased in parts of the city, especially downtown. He said resources are stretched to the limit.
In an interview with Global News on Wednesday, McFee said without the funding they expected, police will have to pull resources from elsewhere.
“Do we take beats out of certain areas that aren’t busy and put them into another area? You know, we’ve got to get more bodies back into patrol. What do we shut down? You only have so many resources to move around,” McFee said.
“It’s going to impact service delivery and unfortunately, we have several communities wanting more presence, we have several communities wanting more traffic enforcement, we have several communities and people saying they don’t feel safe on the LRT, which we’re not the main players in that space. So all of these decisions, no matter what we do, will have an impact.”
University of Alberta criminology professor Temitope Oriola said police should view the redirection of funding to social services as something that will, in the medium- to long-term, be beneficial for them. He said for far too long, “we have slapped a policing approach on too many social problems.”
“On the one hand yes, we need to ensure that police have adequate resources to tackle the problem of crime in our society. But there are other areas that we cannot neglect. And therefore, if we provide money for mental health support and so on, we will in fact be reducing the workload on police,” Oriola said.
“For far too long we have essentially used the police as the go-to for all social problems,” he said. “And that is both unnecessary and unfair to police services.”
The redirection of funding, Oriola said, will help to eventually reduce the number of individuals that police encounter on the streets on a daily basis, by offering them the supports they need through social welfare programs.
“Those individuals that are involved in daily and persistent interactions with the police are the individuals being serviced by the social welfare agencies. And therefore, the police should view this redirection of funding as something that would in fact help their job,” he said.
“We’re now at a pivotal moment in our history that everyone recognizes the pervasiveness of mental-health issues, the spread of mental-health problems, alcoholism, addictions and the increase in domestic violence and so on and so forth. We cannot police our way out of all of these issues.”
Anirniq Coun. Erin Rutherford said she understands it’s a polarizing debate, but believes council came to a “win-win solution.”
“I feel really proud of this council. I think it sends a really strong message about who we are and the direction we’re going to take going forward in the next four years.”
Rutherford said council now has to look at ways to use the money that will alleviate pressure from police and help social agencies.
— with files from Sarah Komadina, Global News.