Edmonton City Council has a great opportunity this week to reset its relationship with the Edmonton Police Commission and Police Service.
One of my main takeaways from the survey. I conducted this summer is that safety and security, particularly in our core neighborhoods and on our LRT system, remain key concerns of Edmonton residents.
I have said before that the people I hear from do not want vulnerable people punished for their mental health and addiction problems. But they do want to see a higher level of accountability in public spaces, including zero tolerance for open drug use and dangerous and disorderly conduct.
Edmonton residents clearly see a role for the Police Service in ensuring the safety of all and the punishment of criminals taking advantage of our most vulnerable - and they don’t want to see an arbitrary financial cap reduce the role of Police Service in our City.
Shortly after I was first elected in 2017, the Police Commission made the decision to recruit a new Chief of Police. The Commission realized at least six years ago that a shift from traditional law and order, command and control policing with a paramilitary underpinning needed to happen. They realized we needed to move to policing as an extension of the community, examining the root causes of crime and disorder and working towards solutions that didn’t involve incarceration and detention. A new Chief was hired. A new approach was endorsed.
And then George Floyd was murdered. A massive, worldwide public outcry rightly ensued. City Council had a six day Public Hearing during which more than 100 persons described their negative interactions with police.
And somehow City Council collectively forgot about the shift in policing that had already begun in Edmonton. One of Council’s primary takeaways from that Public Hearing was that it suddenly knew more about policing and safety and security than the professionals did. Budgets were cut arbitrarily.
The accusatory tone and language got significantly worse after the last municipal election. The tone from some Councillors has been that the Police Service needs to be punished for past sins, real or imagined. This constantly critical narrative has caused the Police Service’s morale to diminish and has done nothing to improve the perception that downtown and transit are not safe.
That does not mean the Police Service doesn’t have work to do. There have been more than a few instances where the actions of individual police officers have been found wanting.
But that should not mean that the entire force is condemned. It should mean that discipline processes are let to properly play out. One need only look at the latest EPS recruiting classes to see the range and depth of knowledge, the range in ages and the diversity of race and gender to see that the Police Commission is doing its level best to ensure the Police Service continues to evolve. For some Councillors and other members of our community to turn around and imply that these newest sworn officers are cut from the same cloth as those involved in George Floyd’s murder is simply wrong.
That also does not mean that police budgets can continue to grow unbounded. There is a limit to how much money the City can collect and spend from taxpayers. The Police Commission and the Police Service need to be more strategic in how they will spend tax dollars.
So what does a new, more mature, more considered relationship look like?
We need to continue to develop a new approach to “social policing.” More partnerships like HELP teams and the HSOC. More effort on co-dispatch, to get the right response to the call for service more quickly. Stable partnerships - and stable funding.
We had the answer to funding all along. Predictable budgets well in advance, allowing both the Police Service and City Administration to plan for future expenditures. No alarmist presentations at Council to scare people into more police funding. No arbitrary cuts to score political points.
A clear, predictable funding formula is the first step in establishing a new partnership with our police service. While a funding formula will always be imperfect, it is better than ad hoc increases and decreases that are frankly impossible to react to year over year. It is an approach we should be using for a number of other funding envelopes as well, including capital maintenance and renewal - but that's a whole other blog.
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