Manitoba

City of Winnipeg report suggests councillors stick with status quo on police funding

After months of soliciting public feedback, city staff are recommending the current funding model for the Winnipeg Police Service remain in place.

Public engagement efforts 'a waste of resources,' says co-chair of Police Accountability Coalition

A report from the city's public service recommends councillors stick with the current funding model for the Winnipeg Police Service, which involves council setting the police budget. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

After as many as 16,000 Winnipeggers gave their opinions on how the Winnipeg Police Service should get its money, city staff say nothing should change.

Late last year, the city launched a public engagement campaign on possible changes to its funding model for the Winnipeg Police Service, including an online survey and a series of events by phone and online.

Five possible funding models were suggested, but a new report prepared for the city's executive policy committee says there was no firm agreement on which was best.

"Although there was some appetite for change expressed, there was no consensus among those involved in public engagement meetings and/or surveys as to which funding model would be the most appropriate for Winnipeg in the future," Catherine Kloepfer, the city's chief financial officer, wrote in a report to the committee.

As a result, the public service suggests the city stick with the funding model already used — meaning council decides how much money the police service receives, the report says.

The recommendation is based on the budget impacts of each model, the pros and cons of each, and the feedback received from Winnipeggers, Kloepfer wrote.

The report says the current model, which was the one "most accepted" by the public, "provides certainty during the multi-year budget period" and "allows for more public input and consultation" on the police service's budget.

It also allows council to keep control over the budget, "taking into account policy priorities, public consultation and the requirement to provide adequate and effective policing."

The other models proposed would affect the city's mill rate, introduce a new tax, or affect the city's bargaining power on police wages and benefits, the report says.

No consensus

Council asked city staff in 2020 to look at new, more sustainable ways to fund the police service.

The public engagement on that included an online survey, conducted from Oct. 4 to Nov. 4 of last year by Probe Research. The Winnipeg research firm surveyed 600 people, with a concerted effort to survey Black, Indigenous and other communities of colour, according to its report.

"Winnipeggers generally favour the current funding model, though not with any intensity," Probe Research principal Mary Agnes Welch wrote in the report.

Probe's report states those who supported the current model "feel it balances the needs of all city departments and seems like a reasonable approach. However, most cannot articulate the reasons why they find this model reasonable."

While the status quo was favoured overall, there "is an appetite for changes to the model," the report says.

Among those who don't like the current funding system, some felt it "short-changes a critical city service," while others said it "does not rein in police spending adequately and fails to properly fund programs that could solve the root causes of crime," the survey says.

"Indeed, 60 per cent favour one of the new options. However, there is no consensus on which option makes sense."

Winnipeggers' choices were driven by how they viewed police, the survey suggests.

"For example, those with a negative view of the police strongly favour the model that ties police funding to property tax revenue and would see the most significant cut to the police budget," the report states.

As a panel survey involves a sample of convenience, rather than a truly random sample, no margin of error can be ascribed to the survey. However, a similar random and representative sample would have a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20, the survey says. The margin of error is higher among subgroups.

Survey flawed, says head of accountability coalition

One of the people who filled out the online survey was Louise Simbandumwe, co-chair of the Police Accountability Coalition — a group representing more than 90 Winnipeg community organizations calling for greater action to address police violence and systemic racism.

"I think it was a waste of resources and a missed opportunity," she said.

Simbandumwe said the funding models in the survey were confusing and none presented a clear option for people who want to see reduced policing.

As a result, she ended up voting for the status quo, since it was the one that allowed for the most public input and for the potential of shifting some funds from policing to community-building initiatives.

She said she supports any move toward public engagement, but only if it's authentic and there's a commitment to following through.

"We want you to consult, but we want you to do a better job consulting," she said. "And we want you to lay out all the options and be open to hearing maybe what you don't want to hear, and acting on what it is that community members who are most directly impacted are asking you to do."

'Reduce police funding' frequently mentioned

The city posted the same survey Probe used online in January, garnering 4,769 responses, and also held public engagement sessions. Only 46 people came to Zoom public workshops, but the telephone town hall had 11,178 attendees registered, according to the city.

A summary states that "reduce police funding" was the most frequently mentioned theme in open-ended survey comments, the city's report says.

During the feedback sessions, many people said the role of police should be re-evaluated and funding could be reallocated to social services. There was also a desire to reduce the police budget. 

Simbandumwe said it's significant that so many people expressed an interest in cutting police funding and hopes city leaders are paying attention.

"I hope that there's lessons taken from this and that they actually engage in authentic consultations that allow people to bring forward that perspective, and that we can consider models that do include a reduction in police funding and a reallocation to other priority areas."

While the majority of participants said it's important that taxpayers sustain the cost of policing, many said they had concerns about how the budget is created and that the budget process does little to control those costs.

A spokesperson said in an email to CBC that the Winnipeg Police Service had "no comment as our role from a financial perspective has not changed."

"We will continue to provide the police board with all of the information it needs to make a budget recommendation based on the requirements set out in The Police Services Act."

The public feedback process also asked respondents how they felt about the Winnipeg Police Service. Probe's survey says 59 per cent of people indicated a positive view of the police, while the city's public survey put that number at 46 per cent.

"Older Winnipeggers and those with lower levels of educational attainment tend to be more positive about the police," the Probe report states.

Winnipeggers who are Black, Indigenous or people of colour were "just as likely as non-BIPOC residents to feel positively about the police," it said.

City council's executive policy committee is set to discuss the report at its March 16 meeting.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sam Samson

Journalist

Sam Samson is a multimedia journalist who has worked for CBC in Manitoba and Ontario as a reporter and associate producer. Before working for CBC, she studied journalism and communications in Winnipeg. You can get in touch on Twitter @CBCSamSamson or email samantha.samson@cbc.ca.

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