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Thursday, June 18, 2020

Owen Sound Councillor Pushes To Slash City Police Budget

Owen Sound | by Matt Hermiz  

Coun. John Tamming wants to partially "defund" city police department by 30%, re-direct funds to tax savings, social supports.

An Owen Sound city councillor is pushing to partially "defund" the city's police force by 30 per cent.

Councillor John Tamming gave notice at Monday's city council meeting he intends to move a motion on June 29 to effectively defund police services by 30 per cent by providing notice to the Owen Sound Police Services Board that city council will not approve any future city police budget which exceeds $7.5-million.

Owen Sound's 2020 policing budget is $10.8-million – with about $8.3-million of that being funded by property taxes.

The motion would also direct city staff to apply budgetary savings to both tax savings and to enhanced supports for those with addictions, those with mental health challenges and those that are homeless.

Tamming says given what's happening across North America with so many people looking at how we can do policing better, he thought now would be an appropriate time for city council to give that some serious thought.

"What I'm saying is there is a whole groundswell as well of people saying, look 'there are mental health issues that policing is simply not appropriate for, and let's re-think how we monitor our communities," Tamming explains.

While the frequency of mental health related calls is on the rise, they still make up only a small percentage of the police department's overall annual calls for service.

According to data provided by the Owen Sound Police Service, the department responded to 645 mental-health related calls in 2018, 1,077 in 2019 and 290 in the first quarter of 2020.

In 2018, Owen Sound Police responded to 15,563 total calls for service. Last year, the city police department had 16,592 calls for service.

Owen Sound Police also recently launched a new partnership to better respond to mental health related calls. It has started a new mobile crisis intervention program, the Mobile Mental Health and Addiction Response Team, that will consist of Canadian Mental Health Association workers embedded with police.

Under the program, a mental health professional will accompany plain-clothed police officers on mental health calls for service and can help police de-escalate situations and determine if there's a need to apprehend someone under the Mental Health Act or divert an individual to community-based mental health supports.

This isn't the first time Coun. Tamming has pushed to slash the city's police services budget. He moved a motion that was defeated in January to send the police services budget back to the police services board a second time to find further cost savings. He's also floated numerous times the idea of performing another OPP costing review in Owen Sound.

Council decided in 2017 against a switch from Owen Sound Police to Ontario Provincial Police.

Owen Sound Mayor Ian Boddy says he was "surprised" to see the notice of motion come forward as Coun. Tamming had raised cuts to the police services budget in January.

"Nothing has changed since then. So, I'm surprised it's coming back when we're not in budget time," Boddy says. "We'll see how council deals with it at the next meeting."

Tamming's effort to cut the Owen Sound Police budget comes at a time the city's violent crime severity index has been rising.

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.

Owen Sound has seen violent crime severity climb steadily higher in recent years by this metric. 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. According to a past Bayshore Broadcasting report, the city was ranked No. 62 in violent crime severity nationwide in 2017. In 2016 it was No. 128.

In an interview, Tamming dismissed entirely the adequacy of the crime severity index.

“It’s well known that statistics when it comes to crime can be spun in any manner of ways,” Tamming says. “Statistics Canada, I suspect, is getting a lot of its statistics from police reporting.”

Owen Sound Police Chief Ambrose says as the Crime Severity Index and calls for service increase, if there was some way to look at how the police department can make an impact by moving some things to other resources, that's something they'd always be interested in.

But, he says arbitrarily “defunding” a police department is a “bit simplistic” without analyzing the impacts of that type of move.

“Any type of cut like that would be less officers on the road,” Ambrose says.

Mayor Boddy adds with regard to the "defund the police" discussion, Grey County is already proceeding with a community safety and well-being plan with all the lower tier municipalities, police forces in the area and social service providers.

It’s being mandated by the province that every municipality have a plan by Jan. 1, 2021.

According to information published on the Ministry of the Solicitor General’s webpage, the ultimate goal of this type of plan is to achieve sustainable communities where everyone is safe, has a sense of belonging, opportunities to participate, and where individuals and families are able to meet their needs for education, health care, food, housing, income and social and cultural expression.

The Comprehensive Ontario Police Services Act allows municipal councils to establish an overall budget for the police services board, but does not give councils the authority to approve or disapprove specific items included in cost estimates provided by the police services board to maintain the police force, provide it with equipment and facilities and pay operating expenses.

Under the provincial legislation, a police services board may give the municipality written notice referring the matter to arbitration if it is not satisfied the budget established for it by council is sufficient to maintain an "adequate" number of police officers, other employees of the police force or to provide the police force with adequate equipment or facilities.

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