Good morning. I’m here presenting today as a member of the group Winnipeg Police Cause Harm a volunteer community group committed to defunding the Winnipeg Police and the reallocation of its budget to life-sustaining services.
The Environmental Scan Report states that:
“There are still a number of proponents of the police abolishment [sic] movement including defund police. This point of view does not include any plan for managing the calls for service from residents of Winnipeg that police must respond to.”
It is disappointing that some of the most highly paid public employees in the city consistently ignore clear public feedback for how residents would like our city to be run. Nevertheless I will bring you some of that feedback today so you can once again and unquestionably be made aware of the kinds of community safety abolitionists want to see and so that these ideas can be included in the next budget and rounds of reports.
I understand that not all of these ideas are within the Police Board’s power, but with Mayor Gillingham present I’m confident that he will be able to bring up these ideas to the people with the proper authority.
The Environmental Scan Report does not specify what kinds of calls police “must respond to”, so I’ll have to make some assumptions on what kind of calls these are.
The most common type of call is “check wellbeing” making up nearly 10% of all dispatched events. The Alternative Response to Citizens in Crisis program, while a step in the right direction, falls far short of what residents are asking for. As the Police Accountability Coalition, a group representing more than 90 community organization, stated when the ARCC pilot project began, there needs to be a mental health crisis response unit that is completely independent of police. Police’s main tool is violence and violence is never helpful to someone experiencing a mental health crisis. It also seems highly limiting that the ARCC pilot project does not operate on weekends when there are an average 2000 more “citizen-generated dispatch events” each day.
Police should not be called to help people in mental distress. There are many accounts of police actually causing harm or death when responding to mental health crisis. They more often than not bring an aggressive and combative response, and have the ultimate power to kill someone if they feel it is necessary (it is never necessary). Even if mental health professionals are present, police mere presence can escalate a situation. The Q3 business plan details an individual who made many calls for service, up to 20 in one month. The individual was connected with supports, helped to make a plan for meeting their needs, and calls for services subsequently dropped. One wonders why police needed to be involved at all when clearly this person needed help meeting there needs and not to be confronted by police when they were in crisis. A task force dedicated to this type of work that did not involve police and their exorbitant salaries could do the same work cheaper, more regularly, and without threatening people with the potential violence that police bring.
Since you are looking for specifics I would suggest laying off 100 police officers to hire as many trauma informed crisis response workers to a task force not connected to police. The roughly 10 million dollars in salaries that would be saved through layoffs would help fund the task force. This would be a more effective way to help people in mental distress and improve the collective mental wellbeing of our city instead of just slapping a bandaid on it over and over.
Secondly I will talk about traffic enforcement, another area typically thought of as the exclusive realm of police. I brought my concerns to the board about photo radar revenues a couple years ago and had a lengthy one on one conversation with Councilor Chambers. Traffic enforcement is often cited as a revenue shortfall in budget reports which essentially means the police are counting on people to speed, causing danger, injury, and death, in order to keep their books balanced. I’ll also note that part of the reason for revenue from “traditional enforcement” being down is “a significant increase in the number of fatal accidents and investigations”, essentially saying that our roads are too dangerous for police to spend time ticketing people.
Out of more than 900 locations legally eligible for enforcement, about 70 percent of tickets are issued between only 15 locations. Despite this, the city has taken little action to actually improve safety at these locations. When enforcement is the city’s primary road safety strategy and also relied upon as a notable source of revenue, it gives the appearance that the WPS and the city overall are not interested in improving road safety.
Traffic enforcement should work to make itself unnecessary by putting the funds collected from fines into infrastructure that encourages people to drive slower and reduce the number of cars on our roads. The photo radar program should be treated as a means to an end so that we won’t need these punitive measures because we will have adequately invested in and addressed the current gaps that exist in road safety.
This solution has been called for by several other councillors and community groups and creates long term safety on our roads. The revenue from “traditional enforcement” is on average 25% of the revenue from photo enforcement and at far greater upfront cost due to the WPS extremely high salaries. Traditional enforcement is also highly discretionary and can result in racial profiling and incidents that escalate to violence causing harm or death. “Traditional enforcement” should be eliminated all together in favour of automated photo enforcement that redirects revenues into reducing speeding in a given area.
Lastly I’ll speak on safe consumption sites which help address several situations that for which police are often called upon. There is overwhelming evidence that safe consumption sites save lives as shown in the letter from more than 80 community organizations calling on all levels of government to address the crisis of toxic drugs and overdoses. In June 2021, then deputy CAO of the City, Michael Jack, said that the city has the authority to open safe consumption sites without provincial approval, the main barrier is funding.
SCSs not only save lives by allowing people to test substances or provide intervention in case of overdoses, it reduces strain on our healthcare system, and provides opportunities to connect people with supplies and resources that help prevent crime better than police ever could. A study published earlier this year in Harm Reduction Journal estimated the annual cost of an SCS at around $3 million, but also noted that there were at least $1 million in savings produced by moving overdose response somewhere equipped to handle them.
To be specific I would say that the WPS budget should be reduced by $6 million (roughly 2%) to fund the operation of two SCSs. This would literally save lives, and help people in poverty and dealing with addiction from turning to crime to try and meet their basic needs.
I am aware that yesterday’s $4.25 million over-expenditure authorization explicitly stated that “any options to reduce costs that have a detrimental impact on service delivery were deemed not feasible and therefore were not presented as a contingency plan.” It is clear though that a 28% clearance rate for a $324 million bill is not a good return on investment and that the services being provided by police are not as vital as we are constantly told they are since they do literally nothing for 2/3rd of incidents they are called respond to.
In fact the Environment report itself states that it is ‘“largely felt” that the cost of policing is “not sustainable in its present form.”’ Yet the police are consistently granted over-expenditure authorizations. What percentage of our tax dollars going towards policing will allow them to provide the level of service and safety that they claim they can bring? Or is it perhaps, as shown by the ARCC and Domestic Violence Intervention projects, that police simply shouldn’t be doing some of the jobs they have been tasked with and their budget should be reduced accordingly to adequately fund real responses.
It should not be the job of volunteer community members to come up with detailed plans for how to solve our city’s problems. This is why we pay taxes to pay your generous salaries for. It is your job to listen to the outcomes that residents want and to figure out the best way to get those outcomes. So far the only solution council can seem to fathom is giving the police money and that isn’t working. It’s time to try something different. I’ve given you several options to consider, which I am not alone in supporting. We all want a safer, more vibrant, and healthier city and the way to get there is a compassionate response that works to address root causes, not just giving the police more and more to reproduce the failed attempts of the past.