Calls to defund the police rang out in cities and towns across North America and around the world in the wake of the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers in May 2020.
Several protests were held in Barrie last summer, organized by Black Lives Matter, and one of the largest demonstrations in early June attracted over 1,000 people. At those rallies, there were calls to shift resources, pull money from the police budget and to reinvest in health and social services, to review how police respond to calls when a person is in crisis, and if sending a trained medical professional to such calls would produce better outcomes than having police on scene.
Fast forward to Monday night and the approval of the 2021 Barrie Police Service (BPS) budget, $57.3 million from city coffers, a $1.14 million increase from 2020.
Councillor Keenan Aylwin was the lone vote against the budget. Council was not swayed by a pair of deputations from Amber Beckett and Michael Speers to defund the police. Every dollar the Barrie Police Service asked for was received.
“Police protect property, not people,” Speers said.
Beckett felt when it came to the police, city council took a hands-off approach.
“To the lay person, it seems like you all see the police as untouchable,” said Beckett. “And you will just give them just whatever money they ask for. I really hope that’s not the case. But when things like this happen, that’s the impression I was given.”
Listening to those deputations was Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood.
“The term defunding the police isn’t a term I like to use,” said Greenwood. “I think we need to invest in social and health services infrastructure before we start talking about reducing police resources, which would therefore reduce the budget for police services not just within the city of Barrie, but across the province and across the country.”
In an interview with Barrie 360 this week, Greenwood said defunding was a term that really was initiated in the United States as a result of injustices and social reforms that are necessary around the world.
The protests this past summer in Barrie did not go unnoticed by the police chief. Greenwood said discussion around funding models for policing are really not new.
“They have just received a lot of attention,” the chief explained. “And I think that attention will create change.”
Nearly 96 per cent of the BPS budget is salaries and benefits among 244 officers and 118 civilians. There will be no new hires in 2021. Police will equip 140 front-line police officers with body worn cameras, at a cost of $140,000.
“We have studies across North America and around the world that support body worn cameras as one tool in transparency and openness within our community,” said Greenwood. “We hope our community sees that as a positive step.”
There was an attempt during the city’s budget talks by Councillors Keenan Aylwin and Clare Riepma to roll back the BPS budget, with separate motions totalling $2.3 million, but they were defeated by a majority of city councillors.
The chief was clear that the BPS is not immune to change and there are many things on the table being discussed or are already in play.
“We are conducting an evidence-based policing review of our response in the community,” said Greenwood, “focusing on our calls for service, our ability to reduce or divert calls through alternative responses and community partnerships.”
The chief said the BPS is working on the Barrie Health Accord with multiple community organizations that will look at coordinating and ensuring there are sustainable investments in the determinants of health.
“We are working very closely with the City of Barrie on the community safety and wellbeing plan,” continued Greenwood. “This will be a multi-year plan to address some of the core concerns that have been identified in our community.”
The BPS is also looking at a systemic review of its organization and culture, which Greenwood notes will help assist the BPS in its response to the community.
Something that has been around for a number of years that the BPS actively participates in is Collaborate Barrie. Greenwood said the program has multiple service providers that identify individuals that are at imminent risk, and to provide and direct them to the services they need to address their wellbeing.
“We’re involved in working with the response to those that are vulnerable in the community in partnership with organizations such as the Salvation Army, the David Busby Centre, the Gilbert Centre, and along with the City of Barrie, especially this summer, where we saw an increase of individuals living rough and living on the street.”
Greenwood highlighted the BPS community outreach and support team that she said is a healthcare provider and a police officer working jointly together both in a reactive and proactive manner for those that are suffering from mental health.
“There needs to be appropriate services that support all of our social and health means in our community,” said Greenwood. “The partnerships with all of the social service providers are going to make the difference for our community that are focused on safety and wellbeing.”
Banner picture: Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood