UPDATE: The Chair of the Barrie Police Services Board Angela Lockridge has responded to Barrie 360’s inquiry regarding a letter from city councillor Keenan Aylwin that shifting some money from policing to social services be discussed during the 2021 budget discussions.
“The Barrie Police Services Board received a letter from Mr. Keenan Aylwin, Ward 2 Councillor, City of Barrie on June 5, 2020 with regards to the upcoming 2021 Budget process.
The contents of that letter will be discussed at the next Board Meeting and has been formally added to the agenda.
As Chair of the Barrie Police Services Board, I want to assure you the Board takes the responsibility of the annual Barrie Police Service budget very seriously. We know that as a major service partner to the City, we have a duty to ensure we are making the best possible use of taxpayers’ dollars every year. We align our budget submission with the guidelines from the City of Barrie Council and Finance Department which are provided to all service partners. The Barrie Police Service Leadership Team rigorously assesses the safety and security requirements of the City and prepares the draft budget for the Board’s review and approval. The budget submission is then presented to Council for final approval, in the context of the overall City budget.
During the 2021 budget discussions, the Board will continue to focus on community safety and well-being and the role that the Barrie Police Service plays within the broader network of social services within the City of Barrie.”
Keenan Aylwin wants the Barrie Police Services Board (BPSB) to have what he believes might be an uncomfortable and difficult conversation about the reallocation of funding from policing to social services during 2021 budget discussions.
In a letter to the BPSB, the Ward 2 city councillor said there is a global shift in attitudes about public safety and how best to allocate tax dollars to support our communities, in particular, Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.
Aylwin said 20 per cent of the city’s entire $362 million dollar budget or $56 million goes to Barrie Police.
“That is three times what the city spends on long-term care, on paramedics and social housing combined. It is four times more than the city spends on public transit and 33 times more than what the city spends on public health.”
Aylwin is by no means a lone wolf.
Discussions about defunding police continue to grow in the United States and other countries in the wake of the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
Nine members of the Minneapolis City Council on Sunday announced they intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department and shift police funding toward community-based strategies.
Also on Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said that some of the funding for the New York Police Department will be moved to youth and social services. He emphasized the city would only reallocate funding in a way that would ensure the city would remain safe.
“We are seeing a worldwide movement to look at how we think about public safety and how we can improve our communities. That is really at the heart of the conversation.” said Aylwin.
He said the reality is that nine out of 10 calls to the Barrie Police are non-criminal in nature.
“That means they are responding to noise complaints, to traffic violations and people who could be experiencing a mental health crisis.”
Aylwin said people are asking if it is really necessary for armed police officers with a gun on their hip and a taser on their other hip to respond to these calls when we know lots of these calls, especially mental health crisis calls, can end up in tragedy.
He wonders if it would be safer for everyone involved and more cost-effective to have a trained mental health crisis responder come to these situations and work toward de-escalation instead of an armed police officer.
“In Canada in 2017, more than $15 billion was spent on policing. The Canadian Alliance to End Homelessness reports to end chronic homelessness in Canada it would cost around $3.7 billion dollars.”
Aylwin said what’s needed is a shift in priorities to focus on the root causes that will reduce the need for reactive policing down the line.
“That is what we mean when we are talking about reallocating funds from the police to other social services. We are looking to imagine a future where we can respond to homelessness with a compassionate and a caring response. I don’t think that’s a radical thing to ask for. To do that, we need to rethink how we are spending our municipal budget.”
Aylwin said Barrie is in the midst of a housing and homelessness crisis as well as an opioid overdose crisis, and on top of that, there is a global pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis because of COVID-19.
He said the Barrie Police budget is projected to rise to almost $59 million next year and $62 million the year after that.
“We need to be focusing our resources in supporting and caring for the most vulnerable people in our community. This will reduce costs in the long run while supporting people in a compassionate way. It is possible. We just have to imagine what that looks like and fund it appropriately.