The City of Winnipeg is asking residents to weigh in on possible changes to its funding model for police — but an advocate for police defunding says the fact none of the suggestions would involve a budget cut is a problem.
“They’re not really offering Winnipeggers a choice,” said Louise Simbandumwe, co-chair of the Police Accountability Coalition — a group that advocates for addressing root causes of crime by reallocating money from the police budget to other community services.
“Basically, the choice is ‘how much do you want the police budget to be increased by?'” Simbandumwe said.
The Winnipeg Police Service budget will rise by $7 million this year, to $320 million.
The service currently accounts for 26.8 per cent of the city’s total 2022 budget, according to city documents. The vast majority of that goes toward salaries.
The Police Accountability Coalition wants the police budget to be cut by 10 per cent.
In 2020, city council asked staff to come up with new ways to fund the service to create a more sustainable model.
The city says staff looked at other formulas in Canada and launched a public engagement campaign. That includes an online survey running now and a series of events to be held this month by phone and online.
They came up with the five funding models presented in the city’s online survey:
- Status quo — the police service would make requests for its budget, and city council would make the final call.
- Raise the police budget based on inflation.
- Increase all police budget items except wages and benefits by the rate of inflation. Council would have to find money to cover increases to wages and benefits, which are determined by collective agreements.
- The same as the third option, but extra money for wages and benefits would come from a levy on property taxes.
- Distribute extra money the city gets through property taxes from new projects proportionately to all city departments. The police service would still get an increase in its budget — but in most years, that increase would be lower than it has been, the city says.
All five options would still increase the police budget, a fact that Simbandumwe says is disappointing.
She’s also concerned the online survey is framed in a way that doesn’t give residents the opportunity to have a differing point of view.
“The police budget keeps growing and growing and squeezing out other municipal services’ funding for community agencies, and there is increasing concern about that,” she said.
“We should be able to weigh in on that as citizens, and if … [the city is] authentically interested in engagement, that should be one of the options that’s up for discussion. Clearly, it’s not.”
Winnipeg Police Board chair Markus Chambers said the service still needs enough funding to allow it to keep Winnipeggers safe and respond to emergencies — but it’s a balancing act.
“We’re open to suggestions of Winnipeggers and the feedback from Winnipeggers through this process, and that’s why we’re rolling it out as a public engagement seminar,” the St. Norbert-Seine River councillor said.
“It’s not to talk about policing per se, but it is to talk about ideas that we can work toward building a proper, sustainable, predictable and depoliticized funding formula for the Winnipeg Police Service going forward.”
Chambers said the service is listening to community calls for more collaboration — pointing to a police service pilot project that brings mental health workers to police calls.
But Simbandumwe said the efforts aren’t where they need to be yet.
“It’s all within the police model, as opposed to it being a genuine, community-based response and actually really listening to the wisdom that comes from our community organizations,” and particularly the Black and Indigenous communities “that are most directly impacted by overpolicing,” she said.
“Get their ideas about how can these funds be better allocated so that we have better outcomes for our communities.”
Winnipeggers have until Feb. 2 to weigh in through the online survey, by joining a Jan. 25 phone town hall or by attending one of five virtual community meetings being held this month.
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