Defund the police and invest in our communities
Ottawa touts itself as a city that celebrates diversity, yet could certainly do better by its BIPOC citizens. As a white woman I have had the immense privilege of largely feeling safe in my city. This past weekend I had the opportunity to watch a forum hosted by the Criminalization and Punishment Education Project (CPEP) that featured the voices of BICOP community leaders, and many concerned citizens. Panelists were invited to share their experiences dealing with police in Ottawa, and to reimagine a safer Ottawa. Many panelists agreed that when their own safety was at risk, officers had exacerbated and escalated dangerous situations, had actively put them in harm's way, or had at best been disinterested and unhelpful.
As a taxpayer, I am uncomfortable with the gross funneling of city funds into police programs such as the implementation of body cameras, reviews, and implicit bias training as they have proven to be ineffective. The root of the problem is an overfunded, racist institution with far too much power that faces far too few consequences.
The Ottawa Police Services budget of $358 million from the total $3.76 billion 2020 operational budget for the City of Ottawa (an increase of $12.7 million or 3% since 2019) is outrageous. This astronomical police budget costs the taxpayer more than transportation, libraries and public health combined, which is frankly disturbing given the current pandemic.
I am not comfortable continuing to fund racist policing in my community at the expense of essential services like housing, firefighting, transit, libraries, and community health centres.
I am asking that the City of Ottawa pledge to do the following:
1. To never again vote to increase the police services budget;
2. To propose and implement a cut to the police services budget to support our community's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. To prioritize the expansion of community-led health and safety initiatives over future financial investments into policing.
In the face of cyclical police violence happening throughout North America right now, there is no better time to commit ourselves to change. What we need is leadership that can initiate a reduction in the immense police violence that targets our most marginalized people, toward the eventual abolition of police and prisons. In order to do this, I am calling on the City Council to reduce funding in these ways:
• In excessive force cases withhold pensions and do not rehire cops involved
• Require cops to be liable for misconduct settlements
• Reduce the size of the police force and stop sending armed/uniformed cops on mental health-related calls,
An increased police presence, which includes transit inspectors and enforcement officers, does not keep us safe, rather it directly threatens the lives of our most vulnerable communities (BIPOC, the LGBTQ2S+ community, unhoused people, street-based sex workers, people with disabilities, people experiencing poverty, etc). Instead of investing in policing, our city must prioritize alternatives like education, increased mental health services, housing initiatives, income security, harm reduction services, accessible rehabilitation, mutual aid, community workers, conflict resolution services, transformative justice, and other vital community-based support systems. These initiatives must support our most vulnerable communities and centre the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in our city.
Our city can lead the way in defining public safety through community, not cops, where Black, Indigenous and people of colour are free from police oppression. We have an opportunity to create a better future for all residents in our city by divesting from harmful policing and investing in life-affirming services.