We need to stop ballooning police budgets across Canada

As crime continues to decrease, police spending should not keep going up, argues Michael Spratt

Michael Spratt

It is a universal truth, police are always thirsty for more money.

The boys in blue have been grifting communities for decades and we all have fallen for their long con. The simple inexplicable truth is that, with few exceptions, police budgets always increase.

Crime rates fall and the police ask for more money. Statistics show a consistent trend of decreasing violent crime. In fact, violent-crime rates were 24-per-cent lower in 2016 than they were a decade earlier and are lower now than they have been in the last half-century. But, a 2014 study conducted by the Fraser Institute found, that between 1986 and 2012, while crime rates plunged by 37 per cent, police expenditures rose by more than 45 per cent.

Cannabis was legalized and the police asked for more money. The Edmonton police said they needed an extra $7 million per year to police legal pot. The Ottawa police made the laughable claim that legal pot would add more than $6 million to their bottom line — they claimed they would need to build a greenhouse.

Is seems that the police can spin any situation into an opportunity to gather around the trough.

Even when police brutality and misconduct are exposed the cops see it as an opportunity to milk the public purse. Instead of agreeing to increased oversight and accountability, they ask for hundreds of millions of dollars to buy body cameras and to arm officers with Tasers and “less lethal” weaponry.

Police protect their own and like any good syndicate they zealously guard their bottom line.

And despite the fact that half of Canadians are in favour of reducing police budgets and reallocating funds to other services, it seems our politicians can’t "just say no" to the cops. In the case of cannabis legalization, Ontario vowed to give municipalities an extra $40 million to enforce legal weed and the federal government pledged hundreds of millions more.

In many jurisdictions, spending on police has grown faster than spending on social services, city planning, or public transit. In Toronto, civil rights groups urged money earmarked for policing be redirected to address problems like homelessness, addiction, and mental health. But Toronto’s police budget remained untouched. In Ottawa, a motion to give the Ottawa police a smaller budget increase and re-direct funds to public health, during a pandemic, was voted down.

We are suckers. And a recent report co-authored by almost two dozen community groups, civil rights organizations, and front line workers, including the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, the Woman Abuse Council of Toronto, Family Services Toronto, the YWCA, and Black Lives Matters proves it.

The report, which presents a summary of academic research and community consultations, makes a compelling case for slashing and reallocating up to 25 per cent of Toronto’s policing budget.

For those working on the front lines of the justice system, there are few surprises in the report’s conclusions; police are ill-equipped to deal with mental health calls, racialized people, especially Black and Indigenous people are over policed, policing has disproportionately negative effects on racialized communities, and  there is an urgent need to reform and re-imagine the role of police.

In Toronto, 10 per cent of all police contacts, some 360,000 interactions, are with people experiencing homelessness. Toronto police also respond to over 30,000 calls for service specifically relating to mental health crises.

These interactions can have negative consequences for community safety, impede rehabilitation, and result in injury and death. Just last week, the SIU opened an investigation into the death of an Ottawa man that the police were transporting to a city homeless shelter.

We can’t police our way out of homelessness, mental health issues, and racism. Alternative solutions, like devoting resources to creating stable housing, deliver better and more cost-effective results with compounding benefits that include reduced strain on the health care system.

Over reliance on policing does not make our communities safer, but reallocating police money to outreach workers, crisis counsellors, and social programs does. And if community safety, humane treatment, and an increased respect for civil rights is not enough to persuade the public, reallocating funds away from the police can save money in the long run.

We cannot count on the police to reform themselves. They have proven incapable of self-restrain or reasonableness. Despite repeated findings of systemic rights abuses, like denying detainees’ rights to counsel, or targeting visible minorities, the institution resist reforms.

Those who carry water for the police state say the examples of police brutality, racism, and misconduct are caused by a few bad apples.

It is time to call BS on this tired trope. In Ottawa, the police association has elected and re-elected a president who has been charged with criminal offences, denied the existence of systemic racism, according to the mayor, “nurtured” a racist attack on Ottawa’s first Black police chief, and who was tape recorded calling a leading anti-racism advocate a hateful misogynistic slur.

If there are good cops, they are not speaking out or calling for reform. Instead, they are cowardly propping up a broken and dangerous system.

It is time to end the long con and defund our broken police forces.

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