January 21, 2021 - Kingston Police Chief Antje McNeely spoke to City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, invited, she said, to explain how the force uses their capital and operating budget.
Specifically, McNeely said she was asked to talk about “how the police budget has been constructed to deal with the concerns raised by BIPOC and Black Lives Matter, and how these elements are related to other priorities within the police budget.”
“I’ve received probably 100, if not more, emails wondering about the City being able to ‘defund the police,’ using that term that comes largely from the States,” Councillor Robert Kiley noted during the meeting.
There are, in fact, 15 Canadian regions registered at Defund.ca, including Katarokwi / Kingston. The co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and a leading advocate of the defund movement, is Canadian writer and activist Sandy Hudson.
For Kiley and his colleague Jim Neill, their concern was an apparent misconception by some constituents that they, as councillors, could control the police budget. “My understanding is that actually isn’t something Council can do,” Kiley said.
McNeely explained that under the Provincial Police Services Act, the Kingston Police department must submit capital and operating budgets to Council. “We submit that to our board, our board then submits that to yourselves,” she said.
McNeely explained that Council is not bound to accept the budget, but does not have the authority to disapprove certain items, line by line.
“If the [Police] board is not satisfied that the budget established for it by the Council is sufficient… the board may request that the Commission determine the question, and the Commission, after holding a hearing, will do so,” she explained.
“I want to thank you because we haven’t had an appeal for your budget in over a decade, so clearly you’ve been working closely with our treasurer,” said Councillor Neill.
McNeely said that, as a percentage of the gross municipal budget over the past 12 years, Kingston Police budget has declined from 11.49 per cent in 2008 to 10.87 per cent in 2020.
In contrast, members of the local Defund organization, Defund YGK, argue that it dwarfs funding of municipal social services. “The published budget for Housing and Social Services for 2020 is $17.25M. This is just 4.3 per cent of the city budget,” they wrote in a December Medium article.
“The trend over the last five years is only making matters worse; the budget for Housing and Social Services has steadily decreased while the Police Services budget has increased by 15 per cent,” they said.
Police in social services & healthcare
The Black Lives Matter movement gained widespread momentum in Canada and the United States this summer after a Black Minneapolis man, George Floyd, was killed by police officers in broad daylight. Floyd had allegedly used a counterfeit bill to buy cigarettes from a convenience store.
His death was captured in a disturbing, widely circulated video, rallying people from cities across North America to decry police brutality, disproportionate use of force against people of colour, and systemic racism. The subsequent “defund” movement has accelerated calls from people at all levels of society to reallocate government spending from police budgets to other social services, in order to reduce the criminalization of marginalized peoples.
In Canada, and Kingston, activists for the defund movement have pointed to examples of Black and Indigenous people facing violence or even dying during wellness checks or mental health calls where police are the first responders.
“The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police has, for years, been part of the larger discussions at the provincial level about how we, as a society, can adequately fund social and healthcare services, many of which have had their budgets cut or been underfunded by government,” McNeely said.
“The fact is that police do not want to be the primary responders when it comes to addictions, mental health, or homelessness calls. Policing is the only service that operates 365 days a year, seven days a week and 24 hours a day. Other social service agencies are not there 24/7 when these calls come in,” she continued.
“The reality is that there has to be a solution developed for a better alternative based on evidence, research, and partnerships. We are committed to working with government and community partners to build such a response.”
She described protocols and operations that Kingston Police have developed to respond to mental health and addictions crises, such as the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, and the Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST model), which partners police with addictions and mental health workers.
She said that in 2019, working in collaboration with the City’s CFO and Treasurer, Desirée Kennedy, Kingston Police put a strategy in place to reduce the annual 2021 capital budget requested by just under $1 million so that the City could invest additional money into affordable housing.
“As a result, some of our capital projects were deferred to the following year,” she said
Internally, McNeely noted that officers undergo cultural awareness training, including education on perspectives of the Indigenous community and the impact of residential school. She also explained how the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion strategies at Kingston Police are evolving and expanding, with plans to improve recruitment and retention of a more diverse workforce.
She added that officers are required to “respect the rights and freedoms of the community. Members practice bias-free policing, and we are committed to do our part to address systemic racism.”
As a baseline, McNeely said that all leaders need to acknowledge and presume the existence of systemic racism.
“Leaders of every organization have to assume that there is systemic racism within their organization because our systems and institutions are often based on ideas that may not be objective and therefore differentially impact our diverse community,” McNeely said.
“This is not limited to the justice sector, but to all sectors, including health, education, media, and government, to name but a few.”
City Council is set to review City budgets, City-funded agency budget submissions and municipal utility budgets next week. A presentation by Kingston Police Services Board is on the agenda.
Story by Samantha Butler-Hassan, The Kingstonist, for the Local Journalism Initiative