Police Budget Input Sessions
I’m busy trying to stay up to date on the many council meetings happening right now as municipalities prepare their 2024 budgets. You can expect to see several updates on the good, bad, and ugly in the draft budgets in upcoming weeks (There’s actually a lot of good!). Until then, I wanted to highlight the recent public input sessions on the police budget.
This year, the Waterloo Region Police Services (WRPS) and the Police Services Board (PSB) offered two sessions to allow input into the police budget. Click to watch the first session and the second session.
In total, only nine delegates spoke at these sessions. While I was one of the delegates (you can read my delegation below), I wasn’t overly surprised with the low turnout. In my opinion, the sessions were offered very late in the budget process, leaving me (and possibly others) questioning whether delegating would result in any actual changes to the budget.
I will have more detailed information on the police budget shortly, but here’s a link to last year’s Citified post on the 2023 police budget if you need a refresher.
My delegation to the Police Services Board, November 6th, 2023
While I have many areas of concern around the police budget, given the limited time to delegate, I will focus on the community engagement process.
I have been a part of many budget processes in both work and volunteer capacities. It takes time to create them and the budgets I have worked on are just a tiny fraction of the police budget which no doubt takes far more work, time, and effort than anything I have been involved in. So given that these public input sessions are happening so late in the budget process, just a week or two prior to the presentation of the police budget to the board, I simply can’t fathom how any of this will have a meaningful impact on budget decisions.
In addition to timing issues, police service board discussions leave me feeling less than confident in these input sessions. At the July PSB meeting, a board member was seeking clarification on this consultation process. The member said, “I just wanted to clarify that the inputs we will be seeking are not really on the budget, it's on the priorities or the services being provided to the community. Correct?” The Chief responded affirmatively and stated that, “so much of the investments and what it takes to run a police service are legislated parameters or priorities that already exist.” That interaction leaves me feeling like these sessions are more about checking off a box rather than making meaningful changes to the budget.
Honestly, I feel like we’ve seen other attempts at police budget consultation, only to have that ignored. A motion approved by council in January 2021 supported funding for community-led and police-free approaches to community safety. However, all subsequent discussions and funding have eliminated the ‘police-free’ language. I have reached out several times for answers as to why this is, and I have received no response.
We often hear that the WRPS doesn’t want to be the one and only organization tackling all of society’s challenges, yet I have seen little evidence of needed steps in that direction. At last year’s regional council budget meeting, we heard from over 30 delegations, many of whom represented smaller organizations focused on compassionate, preventative and supportive work in our community. They desperately needed more funding and consistent funding to meet the needs of our community. Many of the financial asks were in the five digits. A seemingly small amount compared to our policing budget, but those organizations stretch those dollars to meet many needs locally. Much of that work is dedicated to preventing the situations that police react to after the fact. It makes sense both from a financial and a compassionate perspective, to invest deeply in preventative work first.
While we’ve been told that it’s not an either/or situation between policing or supportive and preventative services, come budget season, it very much feels like it is. The police budget increases year after year, while important community services struggle to make ends meet, or even worse, end up closing their doors entirely. Contrary to Councillor Craig’s comments last year, this is not about ‘attacking the morale of our police’, it’s about identifying and investing in the things that truly create community safety.
While I’m not confident in this community engagement process, one area where I think we could have more meaningful change is at the police services board. I believe the board has an empty seat that will need to be filled soon. My hope would be that the new board member would be willing to ask some tough questions. Currently, we have a board that is very supportive of the police services, which may be understandable, but must be balanced by healthy critique and questions, and that seems lacking currently. I have sat on various boards and the ones that worked best in my opinion were the ones that asked challenging questions of the organization. That allowed the organization to better reflect and make needed changes versus just having uncritical cheerleaders.
Lastly, I want to share my disappointment in the culture of fear that seems to anchor much of the police budget presentations. Our community is incredibly safe and yet we can’t help thinking otherwise during police budget discussions. At last year’s presentation, a board member introduced the police budget stating that she grew up in this community but it’s very different now, referencing shootings, stabbings, and gang violence. However, overall, crime has dropped during the time frame she referenced. Several regional councillors commented about how scary the information was in the police budget, with one councillor saying, "I must admit that after today’s report, my eyes were opened to the increase in criminal activity in our community." Of course, that seems to be the goal as a fearful council is much more likely to support more funding for police. I don’t think those reports are an accurate representation of the community we live in and I hope we can move from a fear-based approach, to one rooted not only in evidence but in compassion and care. Increasing the police budget year after year is not the way to get there.
I suspect that while some Citified readers will agree with my concerns outlined in my delegation, others likely disagree. That’s okay! I’d love to hear what resonates with you and what perspectives you think I may be missing. As always, please feel free to comment below to keep the conversation going.