City council motion seeks $20M cut from Calgary police budget

·3 min read

At least four members of city council, including Mayor Naheed Nenshi, are backing a motion to reallocate $20 million from the Calgary police budget to agencies that can help people experiencing mental health or addiction issues.

Nenshi along with councillors Evan Woolley, Gian-Carlo Carra and George Chahal have signed the motion that calls for $10 million in each of the next two years to be reallocated.

In total, it makes up about five per cent of the Calgary Police Service budget.

Woolley said it's a response to the concerns raised by thousands of people who peacefully marched this year to protest against systemic racism.

He said that one in three police calls for service has nothing to do with policing.

"I am comfortable that $10 million a year over two years is a great starting point to both serve the community in a significant way without really, really dramatically decreasing or defunding the police budget," said Woolley.

Police money could help elsewhere

In the city's four-year budget, the police operating budget was projected to be essentially flat for 2019 and 2020 at $401 million. However, council approved increases of $10 million for both 2021 and 2022.

Woolley said the money will go much further with helping agencies than it will with the police.

"A five per cent reduction to police equals a 30 per cent increase to community service budgets," said Woolley.

"So that really gives you a sense of the asymmetry in terms of how we are supporting our community."

In September, police Chief Mark Neufeld spoke to council about the need to address systemic racism in the police service.

At that time, he raised the idea of reallocating some of the police budget to community partners to develop alternate ways of helping people in crisis.

That, in turn, could ultimately reduce the demands on officers.

No figure for reallocation was given.

'Radical forces'

Coun. Jeromy Farkas, who is on the Calgary Police Commission, said the motion has not been discussed with the commission.

He accuses his colleagues of trying to score political points by giving in to community calls for reducing police funding.

"It's playing with fire, and I think there's a coerced attempt right now by radical forces to undermine the safety of society by defunding the police's ability to do their work," said Farkas.

Cutting the budget would have other implications, he says.

Programs, hiring could be affected

Farkas said reductions could affect the implementation of the body-worn camera program and reduce police hiring. That would affect CPS efforts to make itself more reflective of the community it serves.

"We've consistently heard from the community that the diversity of CPS is an issue, and I don't understand how we can actually get to a more diverse workforce by removing positions rather than adding positions."

He said it is important to support community agencies that work with vulnerable Calgarians but that shouldn't come at the expense of the police budget.

City council would have to agree to add the motion to next week's agenda before it can be debated and voted on.

Even if council approves the motion, any change to the 2021 police budget would have to be approved later in November. That's when adjustments to next year's budget will be debated by council.