GRAPHIC BY SARA SHIEKH / THE SPUTNIK PHOTOGRAPHY
Disclaimer: This is Humberto’s personal opinion and does not reflect the opinions of current or aspiring police officers. He is currently at Laurier Brantford in the criminology program.
The phrase “defund the police” has come up time and again in the last little while, but what exactly does it mean?
First thing is first, let’s distinguish between defunding the police and abolishing the police. At its core, the defund the police (DtP) movement aims at divesting funds (taking money away) from police agencies and reallocating it elsewhere.
Most advocates propose that such funds should be given to non-policing services such as social-services, youth programs, and mental health support services. Further, the DtP movement has been interpreted in different ways.
In other words, there are varying movements with differing ideologies; a spectrum if you will. It is also important to note that the DtP movement that will be addressed in this opinion piece is a hybrid DtP movement–one that calls for police reform and divestment.
“Abolish the police” is a movement mainly in the U.S but has gained some momentum in Canada. Abolishing the police focuses on getting rid of police services and replacing them with other public safety officers/agents. This opinion piece will be talking about the DtP movement.
So… I have hopes of becoming a police officer… What is my opinion on defunding the police?
To start, I completely agree with reallocating some of the police budget to alternate programs like mental health supports and youth programs. CTV News reported that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) had a 2020 budget of $1.22 billion. Moreover, The Brantford Expositor reports that the Brantford Police Service received a 2021 budget of over $38 million.
These seem like very large numbers, but where is the money allocated? Roughly 90% of police budgets are dedicated to police, emergency operator, and civilian personnel salaries and benefits. The remaining 10% goes to IT, equipment, vehicles, and communication.
Regardless of where the money is going, I do think Toronto’s policing budget of $1.22 billion could spare some money for mental health services or programs aimed at ending black community impoverishment.
I also think Brantford’s policing budget of $38 million could afford a deduction in order to help address people suffering from homelessness and addiction.
These defunding movements are happening across North America. The Guardian reports that movements in cities like New York City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles have successfully encouraged their municipal police departments to reallocate some of their police budgets.
In Canada, we have seen little success with defunding the police. In fact, the TPS rejected a 2021 budget cut of 10 per cent. Perhaps this is due to their mandate to have all officers wear body cams. TPS officials stated that the budget could not absorb an expenditure for body cams while also giving 10 per cent away.
The Sputnik offered anonymity to those a part of the black community who were willing to speak for defunding the police. As a vulnerable minority in the situation we kept their identity protected.
Jane Doe, an anonymous interviewee who is part of the black community, brings up an important message when addressing the DtP movement; defunding the police is not just about moving money around, it is about empowering the communities that are most affected.
Those most affected are Black Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC.) As I mentioned in the beginning, defunding the police is somewhat of a hybrid movement that calls for police reform and budget cuts. Such police reform would address the issue of systemic racism in our police services.
What Jane Doe is getting at is, we cannot simply isolate police spending and systemic racism. They go hand-in-hand within the DtP movement. After all, the movement gained traction following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. She further says services like affordable housing, after-school programs, and youth sports programs warrant some of the reallocated budget, and I agree with her.
So, I have addressed certain topics and talking points within the DtP movement, but what do I actually think of it?
I believe that it is a movement like no other, a movement that is essential. Advocates and advocacy groups are exactly what is needed to disrupt and challenge the system. The system needs to be disrupted from time to time. How did the LGBTQ+ community draw attention to the oppression that they faced due to our homophobic legal system? They protested and challenged the system.
How did women gain the right to vote? They protested and challenged the patriarchal system.
How do Indigenous communities bring to light the neo-colonial policies that Canada still practices? They protest and challenge our anti-Indigenous system and laws.
Our DtP advocates, predominantly black community members, are doing the same thing–they’re disrupting the system. Many of our laws and governmental policies reflect society’s social attitudes. Our social attitudes change over time. Since this is the case, our laws and policies need to change alongside our attitudes.
People often forget that many of the DtP protests have taken place at the height of COVID-19 waves. Even during a PANDEMIC (emphasis added,) protestors gather together to address the broken systems.
There is still so much that we do not know about COVID-19. Yet, advocates risked their health and faced the risk of uncertainty to protest against the system. If this doesn’t tell us that change is needed, I don’t know what does.
If I haven’t made it explicitly clear by now, I do agree with the DtP movement. Since there are variations of DtP movements, I would like to make it clear that I agree with the DtP movement that is a hybrid between police reform and cutting police budgets.
Reform comes in many shapes such as mental health crisis response training and anti-profiling training (especially when it comes to policing predominantly black communities.) As mentioned above, cutting the budget could play-out in a few different ways but at its core, would reallocate funds where they are put to better use.
As an aspiring police officer, I do have concerns about job security and salary, especially since budgets may be slashed, but this is a concern for the future. Right now, let us focus on where part of the budget will be redirected and how the model of policing could adapt to our current needs.