Police services board approves 2021 budget despite community opposition
OTTAWA -- The Ottawa Police Services Board has approved the 2021 budget for policing in the capital despite widespread protestations from community members calling for a $13.2 million increase to be scrapped.
The board met again virtually on Tuesday after a marathon session on Monday that heard from dozens of people who called on the board to vote down the budget and its planned increase for 2021. The meeting came just days after police broke up a protest camp of Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) and their supporters in the middle of the night at the intersection of Laurier Avenue and Nicholas Street.
Ultimately, Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King was the only member of the board to vote against the budget.
"I do believe it is incumbent upon us to continue to listen to the community to enhance the vision outlined in the budget and to ensure that we are adequately listening to those voices," King said. "My preference, at this time, would be the meet statutory employment obligations and collective agreement increases … but put a hold on expenditures and increases until there is wider public consultation."
The police budget includes the hiring of 30 additional officers and spending on mental health support and training for officers responding to mental health related calls.
Speaking on CTV Morning Live on Wednesday morning, board chair Coun. Diane Deans said this year was not the time to defund the police.
"You can't, just a few days before you pass a police budget, decide to reduce the numbers by 13 million dollars. That would have meant layoffs at police because most of the increase that they're getting this year goes to cost of living increases and their salaries," she said. "Those are negotiated through collective bargaining so, if we didn’t have that money, it was going to be a cut to police."
Deans admitted that trust in the police has been damaged and that work to restore that trust is critical.
"I said last night, the time to start looking at a reduction in police servicing and change in police servicing for next year is now. We need to get started on that work and we will get started on that work," Deans said. "The protesters didn't hear everything they wanted to hear but what they can take from what happened is a message that we're listening, we want to work with them and we're going to make change."
In addition to the budget, the board passed several motions Tuesday evening including one to hire a third-party mediator to work with the police service and BIPOC communities and another calling on the service to come up with a plan to determine whether the 30 new hiring positions can be civilians, like social workers or youth outreach workers, instead of sworn officers.
"The motions that were passed are very reflective of a change agenda," Deans said.
Deans acknowledged that the road to building back trust with the community will be a long and difficult one.
"There's already a lot of broken trust, not just because of events locally here but events internationally and across the U.S., and we know that we have to redouble our efforts and work harder to win back that trust," she said. "We need to start a dialog. Nothing ever changes without talking to each other so we will work with them, we will talk to them, we will listen to them and hopefully, together, we can start building back that trust."
City Council will vote on the 2021 budget Dec. 9.