Office of Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, Ottawa | (613) 580-2485  |
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A way forward on police funding

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In the wake of George Floyd's death in the US, councillors have been receiving numerous notes asking Council to reduce the funding made available to police. This is a critical discussion to have. Anti-Black and other forms of racism are systemic and present in all our institutions and society, and we need to continue to address it.

I believe absolutely in moving resources from policing to more effective measures at ensuring community safety for everyone.

There are some important considerations in this discussion. At the end of this post I suggest a way to move forward through the work that is already being done to create a Community Safety and Well-Being Plan. But it's also important to explore how police funding works in our city.

The Ottawa Police Service is not a City department but is rather a separate and independent organization. It is overseen by a civilian body, the Ottawa Police Service Board (mandated by the Police Services Act), and police are held accountable as well through other provincial bodies such as the Ontario Civilian Police Commission and the Office of the Independent Review Director.

City Council does appoint four of the seven members of that Board. Three Councillors are appointed by Council, along with one citizen member. The other three members are appointed by the Province of Ontario. Those Councillors don't represent Council per se and, once appointed, their responsibilities are set by Provincial legislation: the Police Services Act. Council can't direct those Councillors in how they carry out their roles as Members of the Police Services Board, given the need to ensure that oversight of the police is not seen as being subject to political intervention.

The Ottawa Police Services every year develops a budget, voted on by its Board, that it then presents to City Council for consideration and approval. It is required, under the Police Services Act, to base the budget on ensuring that it is sufficient to provide adequate and effective policing in accordance with the needs of the municipality. While City Council ultimately determines the overall budget for the Board, it legally cannot accept or reject individual items in the police budget. If, in the Board's view, the budget set by City Council is insufficient to provide adequate and effective policing in the City, the Ontario Civilian Police Commission can be asked to determine the budget.

That is all to say that Council can't simply move money from spending envelope to another. For example, it couldn't unilaterally reduce the amount spent on cruisers and put that toward housing. But, I believe there is a way forward.

There is a path to accomplishing the same end result of shifting how the taxes you pay are used. Council could insist on, say, a 10% budget reduction and refuse to pass a police budget without it, subject, of course, to what I said above about the Ontario Civilian Police Commission being the ultimate authority if the Police Services Board doesn't agree. If stakeholders generally agreed, though, on some level of police budget reduction, Council could then make the decision to raise its own taxes by the identical amount so that the overall tax bill that residents pay would be the same. Council itself would have to make the decision, of course, to use those funds for programs that make the community safer in a meaningful way. That spending would change from year to year depending on the flavour of the Councils that get elected.

We are engaged right now in crafting a Provincially-mandated Community Safety and Well-Being Plan. I believe that that is exactly the right forum in which to discuss a new approach with all stakeholders: residents, Police, and the City. I am concerned that without a broad consensus as to how to reduce one budget and then increase another that this or some future Council would use the reduction in the Police budget as an opportunity to simply reduce taxes, or that that funding might begin to drift into City spending that doesn't address the inequalities in our city. We need to ensure everyone recognizes and commits to the approach. Adopting a formal Community Safety and Well-Being plan that has widespread buy-in and that is explicit in that goal is the best way to proceed.

I believe that we can and should emphasize with public spending the redress of inequalities in our city. Our city will be safer when we emphasize housing and health in particular. The Community and Safety Well-Being plan consultations are open. This is an opportunity to describe and commit to a new approach. I would encourage you to participate in those consultations here, but you also have my commitment that as we work our way through that I will be advocating for a re-balancing. We cannot be a safe city without being a just city.

Posted June 3, 2020