Advocates for different policing model disappointed with Winnipeg's public outreach
Lack of conversation on reallocating police money to grassroots groups, says immigrant advocate
An advocate for immigrants and newcomers in Manitoba left disappointed after a public meeting with city staff about funding for the Winnipeg police service.
"It hasn't been the consultation we would have preferred to have seen at this stage of the game," said Jennifer Montebruno, a Winnipeg member of Immigration Matters in Canada Coalition. The group advocates for newcomer issues across the country.
"Certainly, it is not a small budget to play with, so it requires perhaps more due diligence on how to make it much more consultative."
Montebruno was one of about a dozen citizens who logged into a Zoom call Thursday night to hear more about possible funding models for the Winnipeg Police Service.
The service currently accounts for 26.8 per cent of the city's total 2022 budget — the vast majority of that goes toward salaries. This year, the budget will rise by $7 million, to $320 million.
City staff have worked since 2020 to find a sustainable and predictable formula for the service, and came up with five possible models for the public to weigh in on.
- City of Winnipeg asks public for feedback on proposed police funding models, but none include budget cut
During Thursday night's presentation, the city's chief financial officer, Catherine Kloepfer, explained the funding systems before citizens asked questions.
Though Kloepfer gave a disclaimer that the presentation was focused on financing, attendees mostly wanted to hear about how the money would be used, and if there were any options to decrease the police budget as a whole.
"Theoretically any of the models could do that depending how inflation or deflation works, and for sure the status quo model would give that option because city council determines the total funding envelope," said Kloepfer during the two-hour event.
'A safer, better community'
For the past two years, different groups in Winnipeg have called for the reallocation of money from the police to other community services that can address root causes of crime like mental health issues or poverty.
Montebruno is a member of the Police Accountability Coalition, which wants to see the police budget decreased by 10 per cent. The coalition also recognizes Black, Indigenous and other people of colour are more suseptible to police violence.
"I don't know that this is just a financial conversation. I think this is a community conversation that has many aspects to it," Montebruno told CBC News after the meeting.
"Winnipeg needs to invest in what works to bring us results that we're looking for, and we're looking for a safer, better community for all of us."
Montebruno said the funding models remain somewhat unclear to her and other members of the coalition, many of whom have extensive policy experience.
At one point, the public was put into a breakout room with city staff and city councillors Sherri Rollins (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) and Markus Chambers (St. Norbert - Seine River), but media were not let into the room.
City staff said the Zoom meeting was an attempt to mimic an in-person public event, and so media wouldn't normally be involved in smaller breakout discussions.
After the meeting, Chambers, who is also police board chair, said Thursday's meeting was much more "civil" than the first meeting.
"The first session was less respectful, let's put it that way," he said.
"If people want to talk about cuts, that's on the table. Let's have that discussion, but let's do it in a respectful way."
Chambers said he heard a lot of concerns about how police handle wellness checks, and whether or not they should be the service that answers those calls.
"People are thinking outside of this funding formula and how we can better mitigate some of the costs that are attributed to policing," he said.
City staff will put together a report for the city's executive policy committee in March to summarize how the public outreach went.