Edmonton police face $11M budget cut amid calls to defund police

The Edmonton police service may be working with $11 million less next year after city council agreed in principle to the budget cut Tuesday. 

Council started debating a multi-pronged motion originally introduced June 10 in the midst of demonstrations against systemic racism and calls for the city to defund the police. 

The proposed budget cut has yet to be passed — that may happen when council reconvenes Thursday to finish debating the motion. 

Councillors Moe Banga, Jon Dziadyk, Tony Caterina, Tim Cartmell and Mike Nickel voted against defunding the police at this time.  

Mayor Don Iveson said it’s a signal that council supports redirecting some money from police to social services, mental health, addictions and homelessness. 

“We need to continue to invest in other community safety initiatives beyond and in parallel to the Edmonton Police Service,” Iveson said after the meeting. “I’m optimistic we can make structural and systemic and positive change in our community using this $11 million.” 

Council rejected an initial amendment put forward by Cartmell for a reduction of $16 million over two years.

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said the service was already looking for cost savings related to COVID-19 pandemic and that they could work with the $11 million. 

“We feel this number best protects front-line jobs and programs,” McFee said, adding that it gives council direction “to move collectively on a path for better outcomes.” 

The vote at the end of a day-long debate was in response to a public hearing that spanned two weeks, during which about 150 people gave council their opinions on the role of police. 

Many urged the city to redirect the already approved $75-million boost in police funding toward community-based social services, transit and affordable housing. 

This is much bigger than just moving money around– Police Chief Dale McFee

Some called for abolishing the police entirely. 

Throughout the day, McFee reiterated that the solution isn’t as simple as taking money from one area and putting it in another.

“This is much bigger than just moving money around,” he said. “The way to do this is through integration.” 

McFee said that in the past year the service has developed a community safety and well-being branch and made progress to incorporate more proactive policing with the aim of decreasing calls for service. 

“We’re on our way,” he said. “I don’t think it would be fair to say we’ve stood still.” 

Coun. Aaron Paquette echoed concerns that other agencies are better suited to respond to calls around mental health, addictions and homelessness.

“We have by default been downloading responsibilities onto EPS that should never have been their responsibility and is frankly not fair to expect EPS to have this as their area of expertise.” 

Coun. Tony Caterina also pointed out the demands on the police as a 24-hour service while other agencies are not. 

“Any thought on how you could incorporate a call coming in at 3 o’clock in the morning and being triaged as a mental health issue and getting the right people there? “It seems to me that it’s always going to fall on you as the first call.” 

McFee said some of those issues could be solved with a joint dispatch centre, also suggested in the motion. 

A joint dispatch centre would merge or amalgamate social service partners to ensure the appropriate units are responding to calls, whether it be EPS, Fire, peace officers, EMS, crisis diversion or mental health teams. 

Coun. Scott McKeen asked that the police commission report to council on the city’s street checks policy and plans to enhance police accountability when interacting with racialized or vulnerable people by October.

@natashariebe