FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 8, 2020 – Ottawa, Ontario – Black community groups call on Ottawa city councillors to show they really believe that Black lives matter and vote against proposed $13 million increase in Ottawa Police Service budget.
On November 24, despite passionate, informed presentations by 93 members of the public calling for the Ottawa police budget to be frozen or decreased, the Ottawa Police Services Board approved a $13.2 million increase in the OPS 2021 budget. City council votes on the budget Dec. 9.
We applaud Councillor Rawlson King for fulfilling his mandate as the city’s anti-racism liaison and a member of the OPSB, acting on what he heard from the public and voting against the budget at the OPSB meeting. We urge all councillors to follow Councillor King’s example for several reasons.
Jeff Letourneau, OPS’s chief administrative officer, told the board that most of the $13.2 million increase to the $332.5 million budget was to cover wage inflation. However, the OPS hired 96 new officers in 2020, steadily increasing from hiring 78 in 2018 and 83 in 2019. At the OPS starting salary of about $70,000, that’s $6.7 million. If the OPS continues increasing its hires next year, the increase will go mostly towards that. Although we applaud the fact that 12 of the new recruits are Black, the force could save money by hiring fewer officers overall.
Furthermore, the OPS has provided no evidence that hiring more officers prevents crime – its #1 mandate under the Police Services Act. In fact, the OPSB approved a 4.5% budget increase for the OPS in 2018, the same as it approved Nov. 23 – and crime went up 8.1%, between 2018 and 2019, according to OPS stats.
The main Black community asks – hiring more Black officers, funding for the OPS Respect, Values and Integrity Directorate, improving the OPS’ mental health response and providing de-escalation training to officers – only costs about $5 million so the OPS has plenty of money to implement these, without the $13 million increase.
Regarding responding to people, especially Black and Indigenous people, experiencing mental health crises, the situation is urgent. In response to public pressure following the deaths of two Black men and an Indigneous man experiencing mental health crises who were killed when the police responded, Abdirahman Abdi, Anthony Aust and Greg Ritchie, the Ottawa Police Services Board (OPSB) recently committed to doing a review of the city’s mental health crisis response system. However, we feel the three year time frame for the review is too long when people are dying. We also have no faith in the OPSB’s ability to conduct an objective review considering its history of rubber stamping OPS budget requests.
We support public calls for the OPS to shift to a model like Eugene Oregon’s 30-yr-old CAHOOTS program that has teams of two, a medic and a social worker, respond to mental health calls – instead of the cops – in all cases except those involving clearly identified violent criminality. No client has ever been killed and no CAHOOTS workers have ever been injured since CAHOOTS’ started. The program is funded by the Eugene Police Department and costs just under $800K annually (2017-18), which funds 31 hours of service per day (this includes overlapping coverage), seven days a week. One van is on duty 24 hours a day and another provides overlap coverage 7 hours per day. Eugene’s population is 178,000, about 1/7 Ottawa’s, 1.4M. Roughly assuming Ottawa would need 7 times the budget, that would be $5.6M – less than half the proposed OPS 2021 budget increase.
There’s no need for a three year study when successful examples exist. The OPS says its officers respond to 6,000 calls for service every year that involve someone with a mental health crisis. Vote against the budget increase and use that money to ensure people in crisis get help – not shot.
One of the people who presented at the Nov. 23 OPSB meeting made one of the most impactful statements of the evening: putting more money into police, instead of into social services, increases crime, rather than reducing it. All evidence supports this claim. This means that approving the OPS’ 2021 budget increase in the middle of the COVID pandemic, when the city budget is strained, increases the chances the OPS will, yet again, not fulfill its #1 priority under the Police Services Act: preventing crime.
At the Nov. 23 OPSB meeting many speakers also addressed an erosion of trust with police after officers arrested a dozen demonstrators, who had set up an encampment at Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street. The police moved in on the protesters at 3:30am the morning of Saturday, Nov 21.
Councillor King said he believed that there was a serious erosion of trust with the Black and Indigenous communities over how police handled those arrests. We share his concern, having spoken with protesters who said the police acted violently, including allegedlly pulling a Muslim woman’s hijab off and “patting her down”, supposedly for security reasons and destroying Indigenous sacred objects. Councillor King was scheduled to meet with the demonstrators Saturday morning, just hours after they were arrested. But that meeting never happened…
Giving the police more money now could damage community relations irreparably. We implore councillors to use their power to help restore community faith in the police, and maintain community faith in council.
613-819 Black Hub, African Canadian Association of Ottawa, Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, North-South Development Roots and Culture Canada
English – Robin Browne, 613-819 Black Hub, 613-252-4232, firstname.lastname@example.org
Français – Ketcia Peters, Nord-Sud développement racines et culture Canada, 613-606-3540, email@example.com