Josh is the main author of Northern Currents. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow me on Twitter at @josh_nc.
Edmonton is the first city in Canada to make a significant step in defunding – or refunding – its police service.
The idea of defunding the police gained traction in the wake of recent grassroots protests that swept through the USA, led by Black Lives Matter. At many of these protests, “Defund the Police!” was a commonly heard slogan.
It is much more than a slogan, though. It is a policy proposal. The broad view of this proposal is to remove conditions that create crime in the first place, rather than rely on the police as enforcers.
Simply put, the proposal is two-fold: First, eliminate some responsibilities of the police, especially those they are not especially well trained to do. Second, reallocate the funding that goes along with those responsibilities toward effective solutions that prevent crime.
Council votes eight to five to cut the EPS budget
The Edmonton city council voted to cut the 2022 Edmonton Police Service (EPS) budget by $10.9 million last Wednesday. EPS will still be allocated $385 million next year. I guess more armoured vehicles are out of the question next year?
One of the budget highlights was that reallocated funds will be “allocated towards community safety and well-being initiatives.”
CBC gives more details:
[City councillor Michael Janz] introduced a motion Wednesday to reduce the police budget by $11.9 million on an ongoing basis.
He noted that more than 30 percent of calls to police deal with addictions, mental health and trauma — issues that he said should be handled by social agencies.
“We’re paying way too much for the wrong services, at the wrong time, at the wrong place,” Janz said.
Janz and [Erin Rutherford] both indicated that money should go toward addressing homelessness, community development toward community safety, as well as social services prevention and response programs.
“While we don’t know the answers, we also cannot just keep writing a blank cheque,” [said Rutherford].
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, who voted in favour of the reduction, noted that other city departments have taken a 1.5 percent clawback over the past three years, while police have not.
Edmonton Journal also reports:
During 2022 budget deliberations Wednesday, council opted to reallocate $10.9 million of the expected $11.9-million increase to address houselessness and community safety initiatives in an effort to reduce calls for service that police respond to.
Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said the decision was important to ensure funding is being used effectively to address community safety. With several years of budget increases and the largest item in the city’s annual $3.1-billion operating budget, Sohi said the police budget can’t keep climbing while the other city’s services face cuts or freezes.
“I think Edmontonians understand that we need to have a comprehensive, coordinated, integrated approach to community safety where policing will play a role, 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,” [Mayor Amarjeet Sohi said] said. “We need to make sure that there’s a coordinated approach and that we’re achieving the results we need to achieve to make every Edmontonian safe.”
Not such a radical idea
The idea of redirecting police funds to a new Emergency Crisis Assistance Force is not a new, far-fetched idea. In Oregon, the CAHOOTS program has been active since 1989.
CAHOOTS responds to emergency crises such as suicide prevention, conflict resolution and mediation, grief and loss, substance abuse, housing crisis, first aid and emergency care, domestic violence and many more services, free of charge. They respond to roughly 22000 requests annually, making up 20% of all public safety requests in the metropolitan area.
The program has been wildly successful. If similar programs were implemented in Canada, lives could be saved and more effective community support services would be available – services the police are unable to provide.
The range of issues that could be removed from police duties to non-authoritarian and non-militarized (in some cases) programs is as vast as our imagination. Think of drug decriminalization, housing affordability, sex work, minor bylaw enforcement, restorative rather than punitive justice, implementing means of direct democracy and more community involvement, and anything else that strikes at the root of crime.
We’ve already seen the impact of a militarized police force when protesters get in the way of corporate profit. Under the cover of catastrophic flooding that displaced thousands of people in British Columbia, the RCMP flew about 50 officers to a remote service road to arrest Wet’sewet’en land defenders.
This offloading of responsibilities to trained professionals should be welcomed by police officers themselves. Many police officers do go into the police force with good intentions to help the community.
Why would cops want to have responsibilities which they are ill-equipped to carry out? As we’ve seen, the results can be harmful – even fatal – and even more so for racial and gender minorities. Defunding the police is the correct path for Canada to take, and Edmonton is leading the way.