Edmonton council cuts EPS budget increase by $11M in hopes of ‘cultural shift’

Edmonton Police Service will receive less money than expected next year, after city council decided Wednesday to use $11 million from a planned budget increase for social services instead.

“Thirty-two per cent of the calls the Edmonton police take are not related to police work,” Coun. Michael Janz said in the meeting.

“The police need to be out there doing police work, not doing social worker work.”

Janz wanted council to scrap an approved $12-million increase in 2022, and instead freeze EPS’ budget at $383 million per year.

Instead, council decided to fund an increase of just $1 million, so EPS can fund a previous commitment for statutory holiday pay on the National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.

A decision by the previous council had EPS in line to receive $395 million in 2022, up from $383 million in 2021 and $373 million in 2020.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi voted in favour of the freeze, but when that motion failed, he agreed to go along with the $1 million increase.

Sohi said he valued the work of the police chief and his officers, but was also worried about the rate of increases in the police budget.

“Every other department over the last three years has tightened their belt. At the same time the police budget over the past three years has grown by two-and-a-half to three per cent. So there’s a misalignment here,” he said.

Five councillors voted against the plan, which passed 8-5.

Councillors Tim Cartmell, Andrew Knack and Sarah Hamilton all had concerns that the adjustment was happening too soon. Cartmell tried to have the budget freeze delayed until 2023

“That’s a pretty big hit to figure out in the next two weeks. By delaying it for a year, but putting the police on notice that in a year it’s going to be different, I think is the prudent way to go,” Cartmell argued.

‘EDMONTON HAS A CRIME PROBLEM’

Councillors Karen Principe and Jennifer Rice both expressed concerns about community safety and the process of cutting an increase that was already promised.

“I don’t think it is right, or maybe it’s not even ethical, to decrease a budget in a budget cycle. I think we need to delay this conversation,” Principe told council.

Police Chief Dale McFee recently said his service needed the extra money, in part, to address a rise in crime severity downtown, as well as violence and disturbances at city transit centers.

“Let me make it abundantly clear: Edmonton has a crime problem that’s existed for many years,” McFee told councillors on Dec. 8. “One that simply moving money around won’t fix.”

Councillors Aaron Paquette, Anne Stevenson, Jo-Anne Wright, Keren Tang, Ashley Salvador and Erin Rutherford also voted for the $1 million increase plan along with Sohi and Janz.

The $11 million will now be held until council decides which housing, social services and crime prevention initiatives to fund.

“We heard from the chief of police that the biggest drivers of crime in Edmonton right now are issues related to mental health, trauma and addictions,” Janz said.

“I want to make sure that we as a council work towards a reality where we have less work for police.”

Several councillors said they wanted the city to focus more on crime prevention and social programs, and this budget adjustment was one way to make that shift happen.

“If we continue to give (EPS) money, we are absolutely not going to see a paradigm shift and a cultural shift that we are all anticipating,” Coun. Rutherford said.

Salvador wants the money saved to be invested in mental health supports, addiction programs, youth groups, harm reduction and crisis diversion.

“If we want to prevent crime, we do need to be able to allocate funding to those preventative approaches,” she said.

A recent city report concluded that Edmonton’s “safety ecosystem desperately needs to be modernized.”

Budget talks are expected to wrap up Friday as councillors debate a proposed 1.8 per cent tax increase.

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