Dozens share disappointment with Ottawa police budget at hearing
Proposed budget calls for increases, despite growing calls for reallocation of funds
Thirty-eight people signed up to speak at a virtual hearing of the Ottawa Police Services Board's finance and audit committee Monday as it considers approval of the Ottawa Police Service's proposed budget — a budget that features a 4.5 per cent increase.
But a number of the delegates and community organizations are demanding a freeze to the police budget at 2020 levels, and a reallocation of the proposed $13.2 million increase to community services.
- Redirecting police funds to public health a no-go at council
- Ottawa police chief presents 'change budget' for 2021
"There are a constellation of ways the money can be better spent in this city," said the co-chair of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, Ifrah Yusuf, noting the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black and Indigenous communities, as well as the lack of adequate housing and social services.
She took particular aim at the service's handling of mental health calls — including the call that ended in the death of Abdirahman Abdi in 2016.
"Indigenous and Black people are at the point where they weigh very seriously whether they want to call the police which may be more dangerous than the situation they may find themselves [in]," she said, underscoring the need for a non-police response to mental health calls.
"Our communities do not trust you."
Chief commits to alternatives
Chief Peter Sloly reaffirmed his commitment to non-police responses "for a wide-variety" of calls for service that police currently respond to.
"We need some time to put that plan in place," he said, "simply to start tomorrow is not doable."
Earlier in the meeting, Sloly repeated some of the details of this year's spending plan, including the new mental health strategy, the decision to hire an employment lawyer to review police culture and plans to create new neighbourhood resource teams.
Robin Browne, co-founder of the advocacy group 613-819 Black Hub, said the group is willing to give the Ottawa Police Service [OPS] "conditional support" to advance its plan.
"We're willing to give the OPS time to make that happen, but if it becomes clear at some point in the near future, that cutting the police budget is required, that's what we will be calling for," said Browne.
Others are less patient.
"A $13.2 million increase does not represent any sort of listening," said Erica Ifill, a columnist and a member of the Ottawa Coalition Against More Surveillance.
TODAY, the Ottawa Police Services Board will meet to discuss and decide the 2021 Ottawa Police Services budget. <a href="https://twitter.com/ottawacity?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ottawacity</a> we want social services, not police! <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/defundthepolice?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#defundthepolice</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/DefundOPS?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#DefundOPS</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeKeepEachOtherSafe?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#WeKeepEachOtherSafe</a> <a href="https://t.co/gk6IYYmjoJ">pic.twitter.com/gk6IYYmjoJ</a>—@CPEPgroup
"This may sound like progress to you OPS, but we hear an absolute inability to listen to the voices of your community," said Mar Khorkhordina, who has presented before the board on defunding police.
The new budget also includes the hiring of 30 new officers, as part of an ongoing effort to boost the ranks that began last year.
The service reports that the recruiting blitz has yielded much more diversity. A third of new hires are women and a third are from racialized communities.
Role of city council
As most of the delegates repeated calls for a reallocation of funds, police board chair Diane Deans took time to explain the board's inability to actually do that, saying only Ottawa city council has command over where money can be spent.
But she suggested that as a member of council herself, she has been concerned about the lack of funding for social services, including for mental health.
"So over at city council we need to fight for more funds into those areas," she said.
The police budget will go to a vote on Nov. 23 at a Ottawa Police Services Board meeting. If the budget is approved, it goes before city council for final approval.