Much work to be done before city funds can be shifted from Barrie Police to social services – Mayor

Better communication with the public advised

If there’s going to be a shift of funding from the police to social services in Barrie it’s going to take some time.

Mayor Jeff Lehman, during Thursday’s Police Services Board meeting, indicated he wasn’t opposed to reallocating some of the police budget funding. But he added much needs to be done before that can happen.

Lehman said a conversation first needs to be had with the community about how much of that police funding is already being spent on programs and initiatives to enhance police response to social needs. Board member Arif Khan noted, “Even if we are doing a good job, perhaps we haven’t done a good enough job of ensuring the public knows.”

The mayor said there’s no question the city needs more supportive housing, residential addiction treatments and patient mental health support. “These are the things that are going to help reduce the calls for service to the police so that there could be a conversation around us getting back to doing what police officers are trained to do.”  

Barrie Police Services Board to discuss city councillor’s request to divert some of the police budget money to social services

A majority – 89 percent – of calls for police service in Barrie are non-criminal in nature. In a letter to the board, councillor Keenan Aylwin wondered if it is necessary for armed police officers with a gun on their hip to respond to those calls; if it might be safer for everyone involved and more cost-effective, in some cases, to have a trained mental health crisis responder take the call.

Few disagree with that notion.

But until there’s an investment in social services or assistance from other agencies, Lehman said, “We [the police] have to be there for the community.”

In the meantime, Lehman suggested there be a budget process for the police services board to hear the voices of the community, better communication with the community on how police funding is being spent, and which social services are already being funded through the police budget. “It starts by us reporting out publicly what we have done, which I don’t think we’ve done enough of yet … here’s how the Barrie Police has been focussed on root causes, here are the programs and initiatives that we have put in place, and here’s what we want to talk about it terms of a plan to go forward.”