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‘Not what we asked for’: coalition disappointed over Calgary’s police budget decision

Defund2Fund coalition spokesperson Courtney Walcott said their request to Calgary city council was simple.

Take $20 million from the $414 million Calgary Police Service (CPS) budget and put it towards better social service response in the community.

What happened was council decided they’d fund alternative calls response with cash from their own Fiscal Sustainability Reserve.

“This is not what we asked for. And (councillors) are not being honest,” said Walcott.

In July, the city acknowledged the existence of systemic racism, Walcott said. And CPS did the same thing.

“The only way to actually tackle systemic racism is to be fearless in calling out the systems that are flawed,” he said.

Coun. Evan Woolley submitted a proposal in early November to create the Community Safety Investment Framework (CSIF). It’s presumed this would help orchestrate an alternative call response procedure. That would be seeded with $10 million in funding in both 2021 and 2022 ($20 million total).

While it wasn’t codified that cash would come from the CPS, they were to be partners. It was implied they would help fund it with their budget money.

Police agreed to budget reductions

In September, Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld first said that CPS agrees police are not the best first responders for mental health or addiction crises.

He reiterated during recent budget presentations that police are the default responders because they operate on a 24-hour basis.

In the Oct. 14 budget submission, the CPS offered $40 million from their budget, with $10 million earmarked for alternative call response.

“As part of the 2021 adjustment process, we are proposing a $40 million adjustment that reflects an appreciation of the significant financial hardship facing the City and its residents as well as the important work underway within CPS to respond to increases in crime and to accelerate actions to improve equity, diversity and inclusion within CPS and in its relationship with all segments of our community,” read the letter.

Of the $10 million, $8 million was to work “with partners to explore models of system integration involving health, social services, justice and police.”

The remaining $2 million would support internal reviews of their call response.

An additional $10 million would be ceded, effectively cutting the proposed recruitment of 60 new personnel to help cover growth and attrition.

During the budget presentation, Chief Neufeld made clear that losing this cash would negatively impact CPS’ ability to deliver their service in Calgary.

Funding without defunding

Calgary Police at Olympic Plaza (OMAR SHERIF / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY)

Defund2Fund made three recommendations prior to Calgary’s budget debate.

First, they wanted the money for CSIF to come from the Calgary police, not reserves. They point out CPS has had budget increases in 13 of the last 14 years.

Defund2Fund wanted to see a base budget amount of $20 million for CSIF.

They also wanted an itemized police budget made public. That was addressed by the Calgary Police Commission. They said a line-by-line budget would likely confuse the public and wouldn’t be useful. They are working on a better way to deliver budget information going forward.

Public submissions prior to council’s budget debate were dominated by the police budget.

What happened in council

During budget debate, councillors agreed on the CSIF terms of reference, and then to fund it.

But, they decided to leave the $8 million for alternative call response in the Calgary Police Service budget. They will instead draw the money from the Fiscal Sustainability Reserve to fund CSIF.  

Along with that, the CPS would be given the option to come back to council for hiring cash should they deem it necessary.

There’s an option for the police to continue using the $8 million they saved to explore the alternative call response. But the Calgary Police Commission, not council, directs how they spend their money.

Ward 6 Coun. Jeff Davison put forward the amendments to make this happen.

“I believe this is in the spirit of working to support marginalized members of Calgary’s community,” he said in a video posted to his Twitter account.

While acknowledging it’s not exactly what was asked for, Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said it still meets the end goal.

“It’s going to transform how we police and how we police the people that we police and to do a much better job in differentiating between police and criminal activity and responding to mental health and addiction, social disorder in a much more thoughtful and comprehensive way,” said Carra.

How will it be funded in the future?

Not everyone was keen on city council’s decision.

“We’re in the middle of COVID, coming out of back-to-back what would amount to almost recessions, where there’s economic downturn across the city and council says, ‘we will spend Calgarians’ money to build this framework,’” said Walcott.

He questioned where the money was going to come from next year, and the following years.

“Are they just going to dip into the reserve fund again?” he said.

Walcott disagreed with Coun. Davison’s assertion about the spirit of the changes supporting marginalized communities. The cash was to come from CPS for a reason, Walcott said.

“It’s not him [Coun. Davidson] getting his head slammed to the ground like some people in these videos,” said Walcott.

“This is people’s lives.”