The Alberta government is considering giving money directly to municipal police services if the local politicians in charge of setting budgets for their respective law enforcement agencies cut their funding or divert cash toward social services.
Kaycee Madu, Alberta’s Justice Minister, and the governing United Conservative Party are steadfast in their opposition to the movement to reduce funding for the police in favour of spending more money on social programs.
Mr. Madu said in an interview he has directed his department to look for “options” he can use if municipal governments defy his demands police budgets remain intact. Calgary City Council will deliberate over its budget this week, including $40-million in cuts and diversions from the previously approved police budgets for 2020 and 2021. Edmonton plans to redirect $11-million previously earmarked for policing to other programs that could reduce the burden on officers.
Mr. Madu, who cut provincial funding to cities when he was the Minister of Municipal Affairs, said he will not tolerate budget reductions he believes are driven by demands from the “radical left” to defund the police.
“I am going to look at options to see how I can direct the money directly to law enforcement,” Mr. Madu said when asked how he would respond if municipal councillors ignored his position. “But I hope ... that we don’t get to that particular point.”
The Calgary Police Commission, the independent civilian organization that oversees the local police service, proposed budget adjustments in October for 2020 and 2021. The changes, the commission said, reflect the “significant financial hardship” facing the city and Calgary Police Service’s effort to respond to increasing crime and “accelerate actions to improve equity, diversity and inclusion within CPS and in its relationship with all segments of our community.”
The commission said CPS is prepared to cut $10-million earmarked for 60 new positions; reallocate $10-million to explore “alternative call response” models, including shifting $8-million to partner organizations involving health, social services, and justice; and “absorb” $20-million in unanticipated expenses and revenue losses tied to COVID-19. CPS will cover the shortfall in the COVID-19 category by drawing on its rainy-day fund and through savings created by the pandemic, such as lower training costs because of cancelled courses and reduced postal expenses because it issued fewer summons.
All in, the proposal translates to a decrease of $26-million, or 6 per cent, of the previously anticipated $414-million operating budget for 2021, the commission said. CPS agreed to the police commission’s budget proposal. Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld has said he supports diverting money in the police budget toward organizations that could help lighten the burden on officers.
Mr. Madu said he would be comfortable with cuts if they were done out of financial necessity, but not if they fall under the banner of defunding the police or if law enforcement is the only target. He dismisses reallocating police funds to partner organizations that may be better suited to respond to some situations, such as mental health calls, as defunding the police by another name.
Jyoti Gondek is a centrist Calgary city councillor and member of the police commission. The revised police budget, she said, is designed to improve CPS’s ability to respond to calls by off-loading less urgent situations to other organizations, such as the Downtown Outreach Addictions Program.
“We are trying to get officers back to the business of policing instead of being called to anything and everything,” she said. If Mr. Madu makes good on his threat to go over the heads of municipal politicians to directly fund police services, Ms. Gondek expects local taxpayers and policymakers would be pleased to see the province foot the bill.
“I’d be happy to see a provincial government taking responsibility for dedicating funds directly towards law enforcement in our city,” she said.
George Chahal, another centrist city councillor, was recently appointed to Calgary’s police commission. It is up to that body, rather than Mr. Madu, to determine whether CPS is sufficiently funded, Mr. Chahal said.
“For the minister to meddle in affairs of an independent civilian oversight body, that’s a concern,” the councillor said, without knowledge of Mr. Madu’s suggestion he may directly fund police services.
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