A coalition of marginalized Calgarians wants to reduce public interactions with the police and reallocate 30 per cent of the Calgary police budget to fund various communities throughout the city.
Defund2Fund launched a campaign this week that calls on city council to use money from the police budget to fund institutions they believe are better equipped to handle certain situations.
“We know there are more humane, cost-effective ways to support vulnerable persons,” said Courtney Walcott, a spokesperson for the coalition.
“Let us reallocate the police budget to organizations that can more safely and justly address these issues.”
In the recently released Calgary Police Service citizen satisfaction survey, the idea defunding the police came up specifically in less than 1 per cent of respondents (10 of 1004).
Police Chief on board
Police Chief Mark Neufeld acknowledged that the police aren’t always the best institution to handle all response calls during a special meeting with council on Sept. 10.
But it is a job that is given to them because they are always available, he says.
“We’ve heard members of the community when they said the police may not be the best first responders for various types of calls involving mental health and addictions,” he said.
CPS’s most recent annual officer contact statistical report (2018) states that approximately 30 per cent of calls involve vulnerable persons. Those include Calgarians experiencing homelessness and mental health challenges.
Defund2Fund said that since 30 per cent of calls to the police involve issues regarding vulnerable persons, they want to see a 30 per cent cut and reallocation from the police’s budget.
On Sept. 10, Neufeld made his position on reallocating the budget clear during the police meeting with the city,
“We commit to reallocating funds from our 2021 budget to design or codesign an alternative crisis response model that best serves our community,” Neufeld said at the time.
More suitable resources
Details on reallocation will be discussed and presented as part of the fall budget process.
Defund2Fund said they don’t know where the funding should come from.
“The truth is I couldn’t tell you,” said Walcott. “The police budget is exceptionally opaque.”
They are pushing for more transparency with the budget when it is presented.
“It is very challenging to find a detailed breakdown of where that money goes,” said Walcott.
“So that is part of the request.”
The school resource officer program was brought up during conversations about defunding and reallocating funds. As a high school teacher, Walcott believes that the debate around school resource officers should be centred around their purpose.
“The experiences that I’ve had with school resource officers are actually really interesting,” said Walcott.
“There’s a passion for students, there’s a passion to protect them.
“But the question just becomes, could we not be better served by having trained social workers in our school, rather than police?”
Hope for the future
Walcott believes that Mark Neufeld is understanding. He said the report the police released previously talks about defunding as a practical solution to community safety issues.
He says that conversations between his group and the police should be clear. There’s a mutual goal of public safety in mind for both sides.
“If the feelings of September 10 are authentic, then we’re actually all on the same page,” said Walcott.
“It appears as though it’s going to get done no matter what, it’s just a question of who’s going to take responsibility for it.”