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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Owen Sound Council Votes Down Police "Defunding" Motion

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

Motion introduced by Coun. John Tamming to effectively slash city police budget by 30% finds no support.

There is no appetite on city council to partially “defund” Owen Sound's police department.

A motion introduced by Coun. John Tamming to effectively “defund” police services by 30 per cent by providing notice to the Owen Sound Police Services Board that city council won't approve any future city police budget above $7.5-million found no support from any other councillors at Monday's meeting.

It was defeated in a 7-1 recorded vote.

Tamming's motion also included direction to staff to put budgetary savings from police services to tax savings and enhanced supports for the homeless, those with addictions and those with mental health challenges.

Council discussed and then voted on the police “defunding” motion after first defeating in a 7-1 recorded vote a request by Tamming to defer it to the July 13 meeting.

Some city councillors offered rebukes of claims Tamming made publicly to support his effort to slash the police budget.

Notably, Tamming said in part of his notice of motion from “2010 to 2020 crime has declined substantially”.

Coun. Marion Koepke, who sits on the police services board, says calls for service have increased about six per cent since 2010 while charges laid by Owen Sound Police have jumped by more than 37 per cent – rising from 1,528 in 2010 to 2,107 in 2019.

The Owen Sound Police Service has been handling the increased volumes, in terms of calls for service and charges laid, with a few less officers as well.

According to Koepke, the Owen Sound Police Service had 40 sworn officers in 2010 and a decade later the service has 37.

She says Owen Sound was third in the province out of 50 police services in 2019 with 54.8 criminal charges laid per officer, well above the provincial and national averages for police forces of 23.3 and 29.7 respectively.

Owen Sound's Violent Crime Severity Index has also been rising in recent years. The Crime Severity Index is published annually by Statistics Canada based on reporting from police services across the country. It is calculated by giving a numerical weight to all crimes reported to police -- based on court data, maximum sentences and actual sentences.

In 2018, the city’s violent crime severity rate rose to 105.81, the 47th highest across Canada in communities with populations over 10,000. The city was ranked No. 62 on this list in 2017 and No. 128 in 2016.

Koepke also challenged whether Tamming spoke to the Canadian Mental Health Association about his proposal, saying CMHA Grey Bruce won't respond to potentially dangerous situations without a police presence.

While Coun. Merton voted down the police defunding motion like other councillors, she did say “it is time to review the model” to re-examine how programs are delivered.

“We need to examine the impact of being a regional centre for mental health and addictions treatment centres to ensure accurate comparison,” Merton explains. “How do we as a council, a municipality and a community advocate for provincial funding for these services to meet our growing and changing needs?”

Coun. Richard Thomas acknowledged he has a keen interest in having budgetary control brought to police and other emergency services, but says he cannot support a 30 per cent cut without knowing the full implications ahead of time.

While the stiff budget cut to police services proposed was defeated, council may still further explore improving supports for those with mental health issues as they relate to policing.

Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy gave notice he intends to bring forward a motion to direct the city manager to provide council recommended terms of reference for a new task force that would discuss policing and ways to improve supports for those with mental health issues.

“We've got a police board that's recognizing that we want to look at different ways of policing, the police want to look at different ways of policing,” Boddy says. “So let's have the grown-up discussion and see where we can get.

And it's not going for a certain number,” continues Boddy, referring to the police budget. “It's going for a quality of policing and determining what level of policing the community wants.”

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