The Current

Ottawa police chief open to talk of police funding changes, but 'not out of retribution'

Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly says he's open to conversations about how police funding is spent, and how the service operates.

Investment needed to deliver police service to diverse communities: Sloly

'A reactive model is the most costly form of policing and it is the most ineffective form of policing,' says Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly. (Fred Chartrand/Canadian Press)

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Amid mass protests over police brutality and calls to defund the police, Ottawa Police Chief Peter Sloly says he is open to conversations about changes to funding, "but not out of retribution."

"How do we actually make this dollar go as far as it can? And who's willing to make sacrifices and do something differently?" Sloly told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"That's a different discussion than punish the police, disband the police, defund the police — that's a much more healthy discussion." 

There have been widespread protests in Canadian and U.S. cities over the past week, following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who was pinned to the ground by a white officer kneeling on his neck during his arrest. The protests have given voice to anger over forceful tactics and police involvement in numerous deaths of black people, and calls for large enforcement budgets to be reallocated to mental health services and initiatives that tackle poverty and systemic racism.

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Sloly said he's not looking for any money to be taken out of his operating budget — roughly $320 million in Ottawa — but does think it could be spent differently. That might mean police and other front-line workers like mental health service providers sitting down to discuss how they serve the public, and co-ordinate budgets, he said.

"I believe there's enough money in the system, and I've said that we could actually sustain a loss of resources because when the money runs out, the thinking starts," Sloly said.

"We're not spending it in the most effective way, we're spending it on the wrong priorities and we're spending on the wrong way on those wrong priorities."

'Start supporting and caring': Cole

Speaking to The Current on Monday, author and activist Desmond Cole argued it's time to "disarm and defund the police."

A 2018 CBC analysis found that most of those killed in encounters with Toronto police officers between 2000 and 2017 had mental health or substance abuse issues

"We're sending people with a gun to somebody who is in crisis," Cole said.

"The answer for the police is to stop policing and to start supporting and caring."

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Sloly said police funding should be invested in "the issue of building trust and building police service members who are healthy and capable of going out into dynamic, diverse communities and delivering the best service."

He wants policing to focus on forming community partnerships — that involve problem-solving and information and power sharing — to get at the underpinnings of crime, not react to crimes that have already happened.

"A reactive model is the most costly form of policing and it is the most ineffective form of policing," he told Galloway.

"Until we change the operating model and move towards a health focus ... we will fill our jails with people and we will not resolve the issues in the justice system and in the community." 

He said there were examples of changes made around the world, including in Scotland where police began to treat violent crime as a health issue. The city of Glasgow went from being described by the World Health Organization as the "murder capital of Europe" 20 years ago, to today being thought of as one of the safest places in the U.K.

"Massive change and reform that leads to sustainable outcomes — that the community [and] the police will respect — have been done and can be done," Sloly said.

"It just hasn't been done on scale yet."

Everyone must 'raise their game': Sloly

Earlier this week, Sloly announced charges against an officer in his own service for sharing a meme he previously denounced as "racist."

In response, Sloly pledged a service-wide remediation process over the next year that will include training and changes to policies — including IT policies — to better address the concerns of racialized and minority members of the service.

"Everyone in my service is going to have to raise their game, myself included," he said.

He pointed to the good work of many officers who do build trust and relationships, only for "one moment of indecision or corrupt practice to undermine all of those efforts."

"It literally takes a thousand good deeds to make up for one bad one, and a very bad one like this — it takes 10,000," he said.

"Those deeds must lead to material change, something must be tangibly better than it was before."

Abdirahman Abdi lost vital signs during a violent police arrest on July 24, 2016, at the entrance to his Hintonburg apartment building. (Abdi family)

Sloly was named Ottawa's police chief last year. In the months before his appointment, an internal report — into the 2016 death of Abdirahman Abdi — found fear and mistrust between the police and the black community in the city.

Abdi died outside his apartment building following a violent altercation with Ottawa police. Const. Daniel Montsion was charged with manslaughter, but final arguments in his trial were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're going to have to listen, to learn to listen a lot better than we have individually and collectively," Sloly told Galloway.

"We then need to respond with different approaches to the way that we provide policing, and I mean that from the recruiting, hiring and the deploying of our officers and what they're expected to do in community," he said.

It literally takes a thousand good deeds to make up for one bad one, and a very bad one like this — it takes 10,000- Peter Sloly

Despite tensions, he thinks the relationship between police and black communities is "ever fragile, but improving."

"That's from my perspective. I obviously do not speak for every person of colour, and every black person who's experienced an injustice, or a strong and healthy relationship with a police officer," he said.

"There are definitely times like this where it feels like we're going backwards and not forwards, but over the course of my 30 years in policing, the arc has been towards progress and not regress."

Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Produced by Peter Mitton and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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