The City of Winnipeg is examining its police budget beginning this week by asking Winnipeg residents for input on the police funding model, via an online survey, a series of online events, and a telephone town hall.
Coun. Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge – East Fort Garry), chair of the city’s protection, community services and parks committee, says important choices need to be made for community safety, which may mean reducing police budgets.
Currently, police receive more than $300 million annually — 27 per cent of Winnipeg’s total operating budget, a number that continues to climb.
Police board chair Coun. Markus Chambers told Global News that the goal is to come up with a funding formula that will give the city sustainable police service year after year.
“Five models have been presented as options, but we are asking Winnipeggers to weigh in on those options, and if they have any feedback or they have any ideas or recommendations, to provide those through these virtual town hall sessions,” said Chambers.
Chambers said the five options were chosen by the city’s public service after a process that included research into other jurisdictions.
Coun. Rollins told 680 CJOB she feels the city needs to recognize its financial limits and look deeper into how policing works in Winnipeg.
“It’s not about deprioritizing Winnipeg’s safety. Budgets are about choices and priorities, and in budget, we need to be more responsive to community safety, and Winnipeggers have told us as much,” said Rollins.
“Not just in terms of policing but in terms of keeping our ice rinks open, community centres programmed, library services and community-based organizations that contribute to community safety.
“For me, defunding is about looking at those priorities and recognizing we have financial limits and we only have one pot.”
Rollins said the city also needs to anticipate future structural change, including investing in existing technology, such as the city’s 911 service, as well as potential new technology like body-worn cameras.
She’s also calling for Indigenous-led oversight into Winnipeg’s policing, and suggests Indigenous communities have been both overpoliced and underserved by the Winnipeg Police Service.
“I’m just glad we are getting the conversation started, and I expect it to launch the next iteration of work.”
Chambers said decision-making on funding will be part of an annual process, and the outreach to the public isn’t a one-time initiative.
“What we’re hearing from Winnipeggers is community safety is the number one thing Winnipeggers are concerned about. So we want to look at a responsible funding formula that looks at what the needs of Winnipeggers are around community safety, and we have to also reimagine community safety as well.”
Information about the town hall meetings can be found on the City of Winnipeg’s website.