Below is the text of the presentation by James of Winnipeg Police Cause Harm (WPCH) to the Winnipeg Police Board on Dec. 3, 2021, in response to the proposed 2022 city budget.
Good morning to members of the Winnipeg Police Board and everyone who’s watching this from home.
My name is James and I’m here representing the police abolitionist organization Winnipeg Police Cause Harm. I am here to voice opposition to the proposed $9.5 million increase in operating spending and $7.1 million increase in mill rate support to the Winnipeg Police in 2022. Rather than give the Winnipeg Police yet another massive raise, representing a 3.2% increase that’s larger than any other major city department, we’re calling for a 10 percent cut to the Winnipeg Police budget in 2022. That means that instead of spending $320 million in 2022, the police would be hard capped at $280 million, a $30 million reduction from 2021.
Police spending in Winnipeg is completely out of control. The city has no plan to manage it. This is quite literally true: a report requested from the city’s CFO in December 2020 concerning sustainable and predictable funding for the police has still not been completed. This is also confirmed every budget season when the same thing happens over and over again. Chief Smyth and the WPS claim that this problem comes down to unexpected issues like retroactive increases in police pension costs and revenue shortfalls from COVID-19. While these issues undoubtedly complicate the financials, the police spending crisis comes down to a much more fundamental reality: the city is spending an absolutely unbelievable amount of money on the salaries and benefits of police officers.
The Winnipeg Police is set to spend $282 million on salaries and benefits in 2022. That’s the entirety of the city’s mill rate contribution and more. Employing 1,944 full time equivalents, that works out to $145,000 per position, with every year seeing more cops elevated into a new pay scale. As of today, a constable who earns $60k as starting salary hits $75k by their third year and almost $110,000 by their fifth year. That’s absolutely unthinkable for any almost any other municipal worker. Of course, this is just an average: in 2020, six senior officers earned more than the mayor, including $292,000 for Chief Smyth (not including pension payments, of course). But $145,000 is the average.
Compare that to library workers, which has many upwards of 30 percent vacancy and part-time employment. Library salaries and benefits works out to only $67,000 per FTE. That’s under half of what is paid to Winnipeg Police employees. If libraries were staffed at the same rate as police, salaries and benefits would still only come to $130 million. That’s compared to $282 million for police. This is the root of the police spending crisis, not COVID-19 shortfalls or even pension costs. Police costs keep rising because the city has allowed itself to be repeatedly run over during collective bargaining with the Winnipeg Police Association and refused to put hard caps on new spending.
Even by the city’s own metrics, this spending is not working. The annual citizen survey shows this clearly: between 2018 and 2021, satisfaction rates with police service efforts in crime control have dropped from 84% to 70%. Within the same timeframe, satisfaction rates with police response to 911 calls has plummeted from 88% to 69%. Clearance rates have also been dropping, from 38% in 2015 to 33% in 2020, with only 18% of property crimes cleared in 2020. The police keep getting paid more and more money to do less and less of what they even claim to do, although they’re never miss an opportunity for special duty policing at grocery stores and vaccine centres—all pensionable earnings, which means more costs for the city. On a purely financial basis, this is completely unsustainable and necessitates drastic change.
But this is far from only a financial crisis. Winnipeg Police are not only failing to keep people safe: they’re actively endangering people, especially Indigenous residents. In April 2020, in the span of only 10 days, Winnipeg Police shot and killed three Indigenous people: Eisha Hudson, Jason Collins, and Stewart Andrews (just yesterday, it was announced that the officer who shot and killed Stewart will not be facing any charges). Many of these families, along with families from across Canada, recently came together in Winnipeg to collectively oppose this police violence. Winnipeg Police received more international headlines during the COVID-19 pandemic due to the actions of officers like Patrol Sgt. Kevin Smith for revenue ticketing someone who asked him why he wasn’t wearing a mask and another incident where he violently berated a First Nations man, threatening him with arrest.
Smith is only one of many notorious officers employed by the city who constantly use their incredible powers for extreme harm, including Jeffrey Norman and Sean Cassidy; such officers have been systematically shielded from any consequences. Only last week, an anonymous 10-year veteran of the Winnipeg Police was interviewed by the far-right media outlet Rebel News—which is notorious for virulent Islamophobia and racism—to oppose vaccine mandates. And there are countless and daily abuses that don’t make media headlines: assaults, harassment, surveillance, intimidation, and incarceration of people who are unhoused, using criminalized substances, and living with mental health and substance use issues. These are the things that the city is getting for $320 million a year in spending.
The Winnipeg Police Board desperately needs to demand a different approach. Policing has been tried and failed at incredible human, social, and financial expense, undermining the viability of every other city service. Contract negotiations are clearly outside of the purview of budget deliberations, although the city should take a far harder line on those in the upcoming collective bargaining process on the principle of ability to pay. But the police board does have enormous and unrecognized power at this stage in the budget proceedings to propose a police funding cut with a hard cap, meaning no bailing out the police with another $7.3 million. Instead of receiving authorization to spend another $9.5 million on operating expenses, almost entirely salaries and benefits, the police board should propose a 10% cut from 2021 levels. Practically, this will require a hiring freeze, layoffs, vacancy management, and service cuts: things that have demanded of every other department during COVID-19. This can and should start with putting the officers who are refusing to get or disclose their COVID-19 vaccine status.
Rather than merely responding to harm after it happens, the police board should be promoting a reduction of criminalization and rebuilding of life-sustaining services that actually keep people safe and in their communities. These include housing and social services, harm reduction like safe consumption sites and a safe supply of drugs, public transit, libraries, non-violent crisis intervention, low-barrier shelters and 24/7 safe spaces, adequate snow-clearing of sidewalks, mental health and substance use resources, and preparing the city for impending climate chaos like what has been unfolding in British Columbia. Instead of the new wellness check pilot program, all too conveniently announced during budget proceedings, wellness checks should be completely removed from the purview of police and reassigned to a non-carceral alternative. Everything that I just listed is a means of greatly increasing the safety of people in Winnipeg, helping address their real basic needs before they’re forced into criminalized activities. But in order to do this, the police budget needs to be cut and reallocated, not further increased. This means rejecting the proposed $9.5 million in proposed spending and increased reducing total police spending to $280 million for 2022.
Thank you for your time.