Waterloo region police budget an 'open tap' councillors need to turn off, advocate says
'Turn it off now ... grab a mop and start fixing the situation,' Charlotte Prong told council
The police budget is like a gushing water tap the Region of Waterloo must turn off, regional councillors heard from a resident Wednesday night.
Charlotte Prong of Kitchener echoed calls made by ReAllocate WR and Ground Up WRfor the region to reject the police service's request.
"I want you to imagine walking into your kitchen and seeing water pouring out of an open tap into a plugged sink. It's pouring down the cupboards. It's all over the floor and the water level is rising," Prong said.
"The water pouring out of the tap is the Waterloo region police budget and you must turn it off now. Turning off the tap allows you to turn your attention to the harms caused and then to grab a mop and start fixing the situation."
Prong was among the 35 people who spoke to regional councillors Wednesday night as part of a public input session into the 2022 budget. The region is considering a 4.6 per cent budget increase, which would add approximately $97 to the average household's tax bill.
Questions around police budget
While there were other issues raised, too, the majority of the people in attendance spoke about the proposed police budget increase.
Selam Debs, an anti-racism coach from Waterloo, said approving the police budget would be "unethical" and urged councillors to consider funding for other service providers, like outreach and mental health.
"I want to know that if my son has a mental health crisis, that he won't have to call the police, that he won't be met by someone with a weapon," she said.
Suhanya Ketheeswaran of Cambridge said people in the region want to see the increased funding proposed for police go to support affordable housing, homelessness, unemployment and mental health.
"I don't know how it came to be that our public dollars are invested so heavily into policing at the expense of more effective strategies for preventing crime and building safe, healthy and thriving communities," she said.
Sam Nabi of Kitchener said in January of this year, regional council voted to ask the province to amend the Police Services Act so that municipalities would have more say in how their policing dollars are spent.
But he said he hasn't heard of any movement on that front since the vote took place 11 months ago.
"What have you all been doing on the advocacy front?" he asked.
Jessica Hutchinson, a PhD candidate in social work at Wilfrid Laurier University, gave a presentation about how political investment showcases what it values.
To highlight her point, she displayed two photos — one was of the homeless encampment being destroyed in Kitchener last month. The other was the construction of a $50 million police station.
"A community's values are demonstrated by where it invests money," Hutchinson said. "Our values are completely backwards."
Joint letter from MP, MPP
Regional councillors also received a letter co-signed by MP Mike Morrice and MPP Laura Mae Lindo, who both represent Kitchener Centre.
They noted in the joint letter that it's "atypical" for politicians in their position to write to regional council about its budget, but they felt it was necessary "to share our communities' concerns."
"Our hope is that you will take this opportunity to consider reallocating any proposed increase in the Waterloo region police budget to Black and Indigenous-led community initiatives that address the root causes of crime and create greater equity," the letter from the Green MP and NDP MPP read.
Under the Police Services Act, regional council can approve or reject the totality of the police budget, but cannot focus on specific items in the budget.
While the public's concerns were mainly focused on police spending, several people raised other concerns with the budget.
Lisa O'Connell, artistic director of Pat the Dog Theatre Creation in Kitchener, asked for more equitable distribution of arts funding.
For Nigel Gordijk of New Hamburg, it was the way the region demolished a homeless encampment in Kitchener last month, while Martin Asling of the group Yes In My Backyard spoke about the lack of affordable housing.
Tom Haapanen spoke out about the proposed cancellation of a garbage rebate for multi-residential buildings. The region currently offers rebates to building owners who are ineligible for regular garbage collection.
Haapanen said he worried the cost to remove garbage would be passed on to tenants, some of whom may not be able to afford it.
Regional council is expected to pass its 2022 budget at a meeting scheduled for Dec. 15.