About a month ago, I wrote a blog post to provide some initial thoughts for the hundreds of people who had been contacting me about the future of community safety in our city. If you haven’t read through that blog yet, please take 10 minutes to start there before continuing on with this post. One quick note is that the motion listed in the link above is out of date and I will share the new motion below and then provide more detail about how we came to the revised motion and ultimately the direction Council set.
1. That the Edmonton Police Commission (EPC):
a. Work with Administration to bring forward analysis on how many calls for service are driven by mental health, addictions, homelessness or other social and public health factors; and how many calls could be better responded to by partners through interagency partnerships without police intervention (Due NOV 2020)
b. Work with Administration and the Mayor to approach other mid-sized and large cities in Alberta to jointly analyse the ‘cracks in the system’ in Alberta’s cities that drive higher crime, disorder, and demand for service for reactive community services (Due NOV 2020)
c. Ask the EPS to review the 2018 consultant’s report entitled City of Edmonton Street Checks Policy and Practice Review and report on work or plans to implement the consultant’s recommendations to enhance accountability in regards to the ways Police interact with racialized or vulnerable people, and report back to Council/Committee (Due October 2020)
d. Engage external subject matter experts to bring a report summarizing an in-depth analysis of all monies spent within participating cities listed above in b. in the human services/social safety net ecosystem, including but not limited to police, COE, Fire, and other orders of government, charitable donations and fundraising proceeds, with a goal to leverage all expenditures into better system outcomes (and reduced demand for system intakes) (Due NOV 2020)
2. That Administration:
a. Return to Council in August 2020 with a bylaw and terms of reference to create a Community Safety and Well-being Task Force (Civic Agency) and initiate an inclusive, co-creation process to develop recommendations for the future of community safety and well-being in Edmonton, for recommendations to City Council in First Quarter 2021, including:
i. Review of trends and change models generally described under “divest” and “defund” including any Canadian contextual examples;
ii. Analysis of the change model articulated in the End Poverty Edmonton Roadmap and the Plan to End Homelessness;
iii. Review of proven practices that have a impact on reducing racism, discrimination, excessive force, etc, with recommendations for short, medium and long term action (and associated budget implications) and suggested KPIs;
iv. Consider development of a detailed plan to integrate social services offered by COE with EPS’ CSWB department to better serve vulnerable Edmontonians, and return to Council within 6 months
b. Prepare budget amendments, for Council’s consideration, to Fall Supplemental Operating Budget Adjustments to:
i. Amend the EPS budget from 2021 levels by $11M with reductions split over the 2021 and 2022 budget years;
ii. Suspend the Edmonton Police Service Funding Formula policy C604 pending review and reframing as an Edmonton Community Safety and Wellbeing Funding Policy informed by the analysis directed above;
iii. Re-direct savings realized to fund supportive housing construction grants to end homelessness and to fund programs and partners within the community development/ human services / social safety net ecosystem with advice and budget recommendations from the Community Safety and Wellbeing Task Force;
iv. Explore the creation of a joint dispatch Centre that includes mergers and amalgamations of all social service ecosystem partners to ensure the right services and units (ranging from fire to police to peace officers to EMS to crisis diversion or mental health teams) are being appropriately and efficiently dispatched to calls for service (Due OCT 2020 through Committee)
c. Report on immediate options to better hold Transit Peace Officers accountable for excessive use of force, including an arm’s length oversight mechanism, and advice on further submissions to the Alberta’s Solicitor General on the Police Act (Due CT 2020)
d. As part of the forthcoming Bylaw review, include an analysis of bylaws commonly used in pretence policing (e.g. loitering, jaywalking, interfering with lawn furniture, riding a bicycle on a sidewalk), including suggestions for clarification, revision or repeal (Due Q1 2021)
e. Return with a report on equipment options for City of Edmonton Community Standards Officers, Municipal Enforcement Officers, Transit Peace Officers (Due OCT 2020)
f. Consult the Anti-Racism Advisory Committee and report back with recommendations on the following: (Due OCT 2020)
i. A review of budget, terms of reference and mandate for ARAC to confirm its advisory role to City Council, on par with WAVE or the Edmonton Transit Advisory Board
ii. The inclusion of per-meeting honoraria for members of the Anti-Racism Advisory Committee (as well as other City boards and agencies)
iii. A review of the current makeup of ARAC with the option to increase representation
3. That the Mayor, on behalf of City Council, write a letter to the Solicitor General, regarding the pending expedited Police Act review:
a. Advocating for an independent oversight mechanism like ASIRT be given the mandate for handling all public complaints about police conduct, appropriately funded to provide the ability to resolve public complaints in a timely fashion
b. Advocating that accountability for Transit Police Officers and Peace Officers be subject to the same independent oversight body identified in 2. a.
c. Seeking clarity of provincial law and policy with respect to Carding and Street Check policy, and any findings and implementation plans arising from the Province’s recent review that can be shared
d. Advocating for a mechanism that allows EPS to have the authority to provide a level of service based on high priority of community and low risk to harm for officers that thus allows members within the police service to be deployed without a firearm, with a different uniform or without a uniform
4. That the Mayor, on behalf of City Council, write a letter to the Edmonton Police Commission, requesting the following:
a. Advice to Council on EPC’s perspective on opportunities to strengthen the public complaints about police conduct, particularly around excessive force complaints, as part of the Police Act review
b. To invite participation in the work outlined in part 1, including proposals prior to budget for “smart on community safety and wellbeing” changes to policy, funding, programs and partnerships
c. To provide information to Council on Dash and Body camera implementation pathways given Federal announcements, including costs and timelines
d. A proposal from the EPC that considers amending the scope of this Commission to: responsibility for the public safety and potentially the human services ecosystem, including specifically financial oversight, to better achieve a balanced approach to community safety within Edmonton
e. To work in cooperation with the public school boards and other private or charter schools who wish to participate to review the School Resource Officer Program and report back
f. An analysis on how things like uniform colour and design, and vehicle livery and design, can be adjusted to put forward a different face to the public, and how certain training and enforcement tactics can be adjusted to support greater professionalism in the service
This is one of the longest motions that we have ever approved and there is a lot to address. Almost every part of this motion was passed unanimously. The only parts of the motion that were not unanimously approved were 2.b.i (10-3), 2.b.ii (10-3), and 2.b.iii (11-2).
I want to focus this blog on the areas that were not unanimous along with the Community Safety and Well-being Task Force (2.a.) which I believe is the most important part of this motion. Although that will be the focus, I want to quickly note that most of the rest of motion not only received unanimous approval, but much of what is listed in the remaining parts was informed by the feedback from the public, EPC, and EPC.
Motions 2.b.i, 2.b.ii, and 2.b.iii ask our Administration to provide us with options to reallocate a portion ($5.5 million) of the previously planned $16.3 million increase to EPS’ 2021 budget to areas that will continue to help reduce calls for service. Those options include affordable housing, community development, social services, etc. It’s worth being clear that if this were to proceed this fall, EPS would still be receiving a $10.8 million increase to their budget for 2021 when almost every other department in the city will likely experience a decrease or at the very least, a freeze.
Now some may ask if those other areas can actually help reduce calls for service and the short answer is yes. Take Ambrose Place as an excellent example of this. If you are unfamiliar with that residence, please visit the link above to learn more about their amazing work. The residents living in Ambrose Place receive significant support to help them through different challenges.
Prior to living in Ambrose Place, many of the residents were homeless and would regularly interact with police and our health care system. There was an analysis completed that compared the interactions for the two years before moving into Ambrose Place and the two years after moving in. The analysis showed that overall interactions with police dropped 46%. Most of the interactions (78%) that would happen between residents and police were related to non-criminal violations. After moving into Ambrose Place, those non-criminal interactions dropped by 69% as the supports provided on site were able to address various interactions. The net financial impact was a savings of $480,000 per year.
Although health care is a provincial issue, I think it’s important to note the savings to our health care system. When comparing the health utilization rates of residents prior to moving to Ambrose Place, utilization decreased in the following ways:
- Overall emergency department visits decreased 61% from 8.66 to 3.39 visits per resident per year.
- The overall rate of inpatient (hospital) days decreased by 65% from 39.58 to 13.78 inpatient days per person per year.
- The overall rate of Emergency Medical Services events decreased by 38% from 5.06 to 3.13 events per resident per year.
- The savings in inpatient and emergency department costs amounted to $10,441 per resident per year, with a corresponding 39% overall reduction in utilization of those services.
I’ve talked with members of EPS who have worked or still work in the area and heard first-hand about the changes experienced once residents were receiving the necessary support. It allowed EPS members to spend more time and effort on serious crimes instead of constantly responding to non-criminal interactions. This is just one example of what we will be exploring when it comes to reallocating a portion of the increase that EPS will be receiving for 2021.
The suspension of the funding formula is a necessary step while the Community Safety and Well-being Task Force complete their review. The formula was approved a few years ago to help provide more certainty in the policing budget. On paper, it made a lot of sense but as the years have passed, we’ve identified gaps.
The primary gap is that it is focused primarily on policing instead of community safety and well-being. That can create situations like the one we are in now, with every other department cutting programs and services to address the budget shortfall due to COVID-19. Those cuts put additional pressure on EPS to respond to calls that were previously being addressed through other service areas.
By expanding the focus of the formula to include community safety and well-being, we can make sure we aren’t impacting one area only to have another area respond using less effective resources.
Community Safety and Well-being Task Force
When it comes to the City budget, most Edmontonians will understandably scrutinize our budget. I know that because I do the same each and every year. Over my two terms on council, I’ve put forward numerous motions to reduce spending and find efficiencies. Fortunately, most have been approved by council but there are a few that haven’t.
What I’ve learned through that process is that while most people expect us to thoroughly review our budget every year, there are varying perspectives when it comes to applying that same level of scrutiny to our emergency services, especially policing. There is a fear that any change to policing will result in our communities being less safe, even though there may be better ways to deal with community safety.
What might surprise those who have concerns over any change is that our own police chief has clearly said that the current system hasn’t worked for 20 years and that it’s not going to work for the next 20 years. That’s why, in my opinion, the most important part of this motion is the creation of the Community Safety and Well-being Task Force because that group will have the ability to take more significant action with a complete understanding of all the moving parts that have been talked about during this process. The Chief has also suggested that simply moving the funds from one area to another won’t guarantee an outcome. I completely agree with him.
By empowering the community to lead the work of gathering data, hearing from the experts and community, and reviewing the trends and change models in other jurisdictions, they will be able to develop clear recommendations and outcomes, including budget recommendations, that will produce the change that I believe most of us want to see even if it’s not in the specific way that each of us envision.
We have to be prepared that the recommendations may be bold and transformative. But if that is what the community determines, based on all the best research and analysis, we have to be ready to listen to that and take action. I think most people, including EPS, are ready for the possibility that how we deliver community safety and well-being could be delivered in a better way.
Those who wanted immediate action have already expressed their disappointment that this does not address their concerns. The reason I feel so strongly about this being one of the best ways to produce change is because of a previous panel that was created on the topic of climate change back in 2012.
At that time, a panel of Edmontonians was formed to provide recommendations on Edmonton’s energy and climate challenges. This panel even included some people who did not believe the science of climate change. While that may seem counterintuitive, at the end of the process, even those people who didn’t believe the science were able to support the recommendations after being presented with clear research and evidence. I believe this process is why the majority of Edmontonians (75% in a 2019 survey) support taking immediate action on climate change.
While there will be times that decisions get made that do not have majority support at the time of the decision, I think for a complex issue like community safety and well-being, it’s important to be thoughtful about what changes will be made and how they will be made. Similar to the climate change panel, I expect that the Task Force will have people with a variety of perspectives and will be community-led to help build trust in the process and the outcomes.
If you had the chance to listen to the 142 speakers during our Public Hearing, you will have heard that there are a number of people who do not have the same trust in the systems that others might have. They have lived through traumatic experiences that cannot be ignored just because we might not have experienced the same thing. Ignoring those voices means that they will have shared their painful experiences for nothing.
I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that the status quo is not working for many different people and that it is possible to address community safety in a different way. Where there is some disagreement is what specific steps must be taken. Some have suggested abolishing the police, some have suggested defunding, and some have suggested taking no action even though there are areas for improvement.
For those who have expressed concerns about changes, since EPS, EPC, social agencies, and many members of the community all believe we can be doing things better, I believe we should work together to create that change. For those who wanted an immediate significant change in the system, I believe that this community-led process is needed to ensure we are completing our due diligence to inform any and all changes.
This won’t be easy. But then again, change rarely is easy. I am confident that this work will be able to address some of the systemic challenges that are before us today. This work won’t be the end of what we need to do, as the issue of systemic racism is not only a policing issue. I believe the motion begins to take action on those areas that need to be addressed. Thanks to everyone who has provided feedback on this issue and please feel free to share any additional comments below.