The Regina Police Service has been approved for a $3.6 million dollar increase in their budget in a 7 - 4 city council vote after a lengthy debate.
Regina police are proposing a net operating budget of $89.2 million. It's a 4.2 per cent increase over the 2020 budget, which is a $3.6 million increase.
Chief Evan Bray said without the additional funding, the police would need to tighten up the organization, and that the mental health team and work with youth would suffer.
"There isn't a lot of wiggle room or fat in our budget. … We have high demand in our city, that's part of the challenge," Bray said. "And so ultimately it comes down to service delivery cuts if we were forced to make some changes to funding."
Police request 8 new officers
In spring 2020, the previous Board of Police Commissioners endorsed a plan that would hire 27 new officers each year for the next three years. However, due to the challenges with the pandemic, police instead asked for eight new officers and three civilian officers — two would be dispatchers.
Regina police say the complexities of increasing firearms, drugs and gang violence calls show the need for this.
Delegations spoke to city council against the request, including Dr. Michelle Stewart. Stewart said she has 15 years experience conducting research in the justice system in Canada and in the United States and spoke as an educator, researcher and evaluator.
"This is not the year to expand the police budget. … Looking critically at the police budget is about asking how we want to spend our dollars," Stewart said. "We can and should spend our dollars differently."
Stewart said inequalities in Regina have only grown more significant this past year with a meth and opioid crisis. Stewart asked council members to instead imagine if they invested just $1 million of the $4 million into harm reduction, and said the city needs to step in.
Stewart said there should be more mental health workers in the city, which would cost less than a new police officer, and more money invested in housing for people who are hard to house.
Chief says crimes are down but calls remained the same
Bray said there was less property crime and overall crime in 2020, however the number of calls remained the same. Police attended 20 domestic calls a day and three to four suicide attempt calls a day in 2020. As well, Bray said domestic conflict calls and drug overdose calls have increased.
"Almost every call we go to requires a police response. There's very few we go to that don't actually require a police response," Bray said. "Initial response to the call is almost always going to be police. Where partner help is [needed] to help with after-call care."
Bray said there needs to be collaboration between the RPS and the province to put social workers with officers, not defunding police to hire social workers instead. Bray said people with a substance addiction don't need handcuffs but removing the handcuffs without something else to be there in support doesn't solve anything.
Bray said if there was an improved continuum of care and less officers were tied up, they could assign more officers to things like the internet child exploitation unit. Bray said at the moment, the unit is only skimming the surface of the problem.
Councillors reaction mixed to budget increase
Coun. Bob Hawkins said the RPS have kept Regina safe and now it's council's time to do their part. Hawkins said that it's urgent to do both — address the social issues and help police.
"This is not an either or situation," Hawkins said. "We can both fund the RPS and address the underlying determinants of crime and address the environment. Regina residents expect this of us."
Hawkins said they have to work together with police and community services to combat the issues surrounding crime and the high number of Indigenous people in jails, as well as many other issues brought up. He said they cannot pit people against each other and do an either or situation.
Coun. Shanon Zachidniak said she's unable to support the increase with the 27 per cent overall decrease in crime. She said this decrease gives her a reason to vote for a lower mill rate and invest in initiatives that look at the root causes in crime.
The final vote was seven councillors for the budget, four against. The councillors who voted against the motion were Coun. Zachidniak, Coun. Andrew Stevens, Coun. Dan LeBlanc and Coun. Cheryl Stadnichuk.
Students argue money should be put toward renewable initiatives, not police
During the debate about the police budget, students spoke to council about where they would like to see the money spent instead of hiring more officers.
Sophia Young spoke as a representative of 150 college and high school students. Young said the increase wasn't needed and instead Regina should put the money toward the Renewable Regina goal to be net zero in emissions by 2050.
"We're sixteen and we're scared because we aren't seeing the changes that we need," Young said. "We sincerely hope you increase the amount that you're putting towards our earth."
Keisha Nginhena and Hayley Watson spoke from Miller Comprehensive High School. Nginhena is a part of the Miller High School Environmental Team. Nginhena said the city should spend the money on installing building standards and retrofitting buildings to be more green.
"Instead of increasing the police budget, we would like to see measures combating climate change," Nginhena said. "We are urging the council to prioritize the future of our generation and the generations after us. Regina council cannot allow itself to stand still; time is of the essence."