In January 2022, the City of Winnipeg conducted a highly biased public engagement process regarding funding models to the Winnipeg Police Service (WPS). The City failed to include any options for long-term funding cuts to police, silencing the well-documented community demands to reduce funding to the WPS and ignoring calls to reallocate this enormous budget to life-sustaining services that actually create healthy and safe conditions in Winnipeg.
In response, Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (WPCH) launched its own Healthy Communities Survey, which ran from mid-January to early February, a slighter shorter timeframe than the City's survey. Our goal was to facilitate a transparent public engagement process that represents real community demands regarding police funding.
The results were stunning. Of the 530 people who filled out our survey, almost one-quarter (120 people) voted for a 50 percent reduction to the WPS budget in 2022-23. Another 22 percent (114 people) voted for a 30 percent cut, while another 16 percent (85 people) vote for a 10 percent cut.
Regardless of specific cut, over 70 percent of respondents — 375 people — want to see an annual police budget reduction continued until the Winnipeg Police is completely defunded and abolished. There were a mere 20 pro-police responses, there’s a few in every crowd!
Long term defunding models need to be included in any discussion about police budgets in 2022.
The WPS is set to spend $320 million in 2022, over one-quarter of the city’s entire budget. Still, the WPS constantly claims that there is simply no way to cut their enormous spending, even by a sliver; in November 2021, Chief Danny Smyth refused to even speak to cuts at the finance committee, telling media “in my view that’s not productive but it might be helpful at a political level.”
Our Healthy Communities Survey generated plenty of ideas for how the WPS can cut their budget, with respondents able to vote on as many recommendations as they like.
The top recommendation, with support from 85 percent (449 people), was to sell the tank (bought for $343,000 in 2015) and the recently purchased robot dog (bought for $257,000 in 2021). Closely following that, 80 percent (426 people) support the City negotiating stricter salary caps on police during collective bargaining, while another 74 percent (394 people) want the police to sell the $3.5 million helicopter. 68 percent (362 people) recommend a hiring freeze.
Many other suggestions were generated in the survey's write-in section including ending “special duty” policing (when police take extra paid work in grocery stores and vaccine centres) and counting such overtime as pensionable earnings; ending paid leave for police under investigation and firing cops with extensive disciplinary records; ensuring financial settlements for police abuse comes from the police budget, not city; and shuffling out high-cost staff with buyouts or retraining.
Our communities are fed up with being held hostage by a hypermilitarized police force that runs the city.
But police abolition isn't just about getting rid of police — although it very much is that! It's also about funding public services and community programs that actually keep people safe.
Our survey asked folks how they would like to reallocate funds from the WPS. The three top responses all received near-identical support at 87 percent: public housing; safe consumption sites, safe supply, and other harm reduction services; and non-violent and anti-carceral crisis response. Other highly supported alternatives included low-barrier 24/7 safe spaces (425 responses, or 80 percent) and free and high-quality public transit (396 responses, or 75 percent).
The community has shown up – as always – to demand a better vision for Winnipeg. Like with the police budget cut question, we also solicited written feedback from respondents. The main themes to this question included greater mental health supports; UBI, EIA, and income supports for people with disabilities; and funding to non-profits and community services like Bear Clan, Klinic, and Neechi Commons.
Our Healthy Communities Survey was a modest attempt to provide the community with a space to voice their perspectives on police funding; WPCH is committed to presenting our findings with transparency so that our community members feel heard. This type of public engagement was systematically prevented in the City's process, which cost taxpayers a whopping $150,000! We are happy to do this unpaid work out of sheer love and optimism for our communities.
Our survey received an overwhelming response from the community and clearly articulated a cohesive desire for defunding of police and reallocation of its budget to life-sustaining services. Going forward, we will ensure these survey results are communicated to city councillors, and we plan to run a community presentation of our findings.
Thank you to everyone who filled out the survey. We appreciate your continued support for our work!