Use police funds for social programs says advocacy group as defunding movement grows

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) — Taking money from police budgets and putting it towards social programs can make communities safer, according to an advocacy group, as international calls to defund forces grow louder following the deadly arrest of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Meenakshi Mannoe with the PIVOT Legal Society says by taking money out of massive police budgets locally and around the country and putting that money into other social support programs, better outcomes can be achieved.

“Basic needs, like housing needs, would be met. Then, I think, we can look to transformative justice processes that are different than criminalization,” she says.

Mannoe argues transformative justice, which looks at the root causes of problems instead of just the offence, is often a better response than criminalizing certain behaviour and paying to enforce those laws.

“There’s this perception that police could be trained, but certain interventions might increase accountability,” she says. “But I think what we’re really hearing across North America right now is that there are fundamental issues with how policing is done and how police accountability is achieved.”

Rather than invest further in police, Mannoe says funds could be reallocated instead.

“We need to, again, divest the hundreds of millions that are going into policing and put that into the hands of people who are best-situated to respond to problems in the community.”

“We’re in a moment where there’s an intense level of scrutiny on policing and I think it’s the moment to listen to Indigenous folks, to Black folks and to really heed their calls for defunding police as a way to make them safer,” she says, adding community oversight of policing should be considered.

It isn’t a move Mannoe says would happen all at once, but rather a gradual shift into funding support service programs. But by moving away from enforcement, the focus could shift towards programs like harm reduction and peer support, Mannoe says.

“Then eventually, we can move away from reliance on police altogether,” she says.

Many changes already place, says Police Union

President of Vancouver Police Union Ralph Kaisers says he’s heard similar calls from advocates in the past about reallocating funds to other programs.

“A lot of the stuff has already been done here in Canada and, in particular here in Vancouver,” he says.

Kaisers also argues policing in Canada is vastly different than it is in the United States.

“We have a very different system in place as far as how our police departments operate. There’s accountability, there’s oversight,” he argues, adding most police forces in the U.S. don’t have independent oversight.

However, he acknowledges Canada’s history in policing Indigenous people has been a problem.

“There is no doubt there has been an issue,” Kaisers says. “We certainly have here in Vancouver learned how those issues need to be dealt with and changed moving forward.

But he says training takes place regularly and Indigenous leaders have come in and helped with instruction to officers.

As for moving away from the police force, Kaisers argues it wouldn’t be feasible to have trained professionals, like psychologists working around the clock to go to certain calls.

He says police would still need to accompany trained professionals on some calls as a safety measure, as he says often happens in calls to the Downtown Eastside.

“We deal with crisis negotiation and de-escalation on a day-to-day basis in this city, in particular, and across the country,” he says.

At the VPD, Kaisers also says there is collaboration with a team from Vancouver Coastal Health.

“They go out on the road with our members in one of our units to check on people who are potentially in a state of crisis, or in need of more help through the health system when it comes to mental health issues.”

In the wake of demonstrations against racism and police brutality, several cities have already revised their police departments. In the case of Minneapolis, city council has backed disbanded the police force. That state has also launched a civil rights investigation after George Floyd’s death.

Meanwhile Vancouver city councillors Pete Fry and Christine Boyle report they’ve received around 2,000 emails each calling for defunding or overhauling the police budget.

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