City reallocates some police funding for crisis services

Calgary police are re-allocating $8M of its $400M budget to improve crisis response with a stated focus on addressing racism, but the leader of BLM YYC says they’ve left out BIPOC organizations. Stefanie Lasuik reports.

CALGARY — The city has announced details on how it plans to reallocate some police funds.

A total of $16 million has been earmarked with two dozen organizations getting some of the cash, while police will also spend money on adjusting their services.

Some of these organizations include Alpha House and the Distress Centre to help with crisis response, while money for police will go towards creating more teams that pair officers with mental health clinicians.

The city said programs will also be able to improve access to services and increase the availability of round-the-clock, non-emergency support through a range of Community Safety Initiative Society ambassador programs.

Eight million dollars from the Community Safety Investment Framework is being doled out for these initiatives, with $5.8 million being sent out so far.

Along with those programs, $360,000 will go towards funding a research project to inform the development of a “transformational crisis response system”. The rest of the money will be set aside for implementing the recommendations from that research project.

This is the culmination of several months of work that began with anti-racism protests sparked last summer in the wake of the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Debates at city hall started looking at removing a chunk of the police budget, with councillors eventually settling on a more moderate plan that moved around some other money, including $8 million from the city’s reserve funds. So far, $5.2 million of that cash has been allocated.

RELATED: Calgary police propose distributing funds to mental health services

Mayor Naheed Nenshi said this is a collaborative approach.

“Investing in programs that bring together first responders and mental health providers, including clinicians and social workers, will provide better relief and support to those in crisis. It will also result in decreased demand on police as more appropriate services become available for Calgarians,” he said. “This is really a groundbreaking partnership between the City of Calgary, Calgary Police Service and our volunteer citizen Calgary Police Commission.”

One important initiative getting a boost is the Mobile Response Team (MRT), which pairs officers with mental health clinicians to assist with tough calls. Prior to the announcement, there were four teams operating 12 hours a day, but now that will be doubled to eight teams working around the clock.

Police chief Mark Neufeld said the plans have a lot of buy-in from the service and everyone will benefit.

“A couple of these partnerships were ones that the frontline officers have been calling for, for some time,” he said. “It’s an excellent program that shows benefit to both police officers and people in crisis.”

Neufeld said the team succeeds as people may feel less threatened by a clinician as opposed to a police officer, and there will be less stigmatization in these cases.

“We have long said that in a 24/7 world, police officers are often the default responders to calls better suited for mental health experts. This reallocation of funding provides better crisis response for citizens, provides much-needed support to our frontline officers and it also reaffirms our commitment to transformational culture change within CPS, to honour our commitment to anti-racism, equity and inclusion,” Neufeld added.

Funding is also going towards hiring citizen investigators aimed at improving the examination of complaints against the police, with the service specifically looking for people who do not have a police background to help out with the work.

But in response to a question that this may not be exactly what some people are looking for, and the police budget remains “bloated”, Nenshi said this is still an important approach.

“This is not about defund, this is about fund. It’s about funding a new system and frankly I think we are one of the leaders in the world at figuring out what that new crisis response system looks like so that we’re moving to an anti-racist and to a truly responsive system.”

They added the work is not done though, and the focus was getting money out the door quickly, with more initiatives to come in the future.

“This is the first step,” said Neufeld. “This is a lot of good work that’s actually been put together in a very short period of time in collaboration with the community, but that’s not the only work that’s going on. So, there will be more announcements down the line in relation to additional work that’s being done.”

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