Increased public scrutiny of police budgets was a direct result of the summer 2020 global protests against police racism and violence.
Activists and ordinary citizens alike in the city after city urged their respective governments to redirect police budgets toward social services and infrastructure. Demonstrations in the streets and polls showing widespread support for cutting police budgets lent credence to this demand.
Despite this backing, no municipality in Canada has yet defunded the police and instead invested in its residents and neighborhoods.
According to my findings, municipal police departments’ budgets have been growing steadily over the past few years in every major American city. Although there have been significant shifts in how cities approach police spending after the year 2020, there are also some encouraging early signs of progress that could be built upon.
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Controlling Expenditures Leading Up To And Past 2020
The following chart shows that policing expenditures in Canada rose both before and after the protests of 2020. Simply put, no municipality has cut back on police funding.
While both scenarios involve budget increases, they do so in different ways. The rate of increase in police budgets in some cities was roughly the same both before and after the year 2020. It includes such cities as Ottawa, Calgary, Durham Region, York Region, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.
It appears that the protests had little effect on the budgeting decisions of these municipalities. Toronto and Peel Region, two Canadian municipalities, increased policing spending in the wake of the protests of 2020 at a much lower rate. This shift is most pronounced in Toronto, where police spending rose by 11.4% between 2018 and 2020 and 2.3% between 2020 and 2022.
In fact, only one city went in the opposite direction. After 2020, Montréal spent a much larger share of its budget on police than it had before or any other Canadian city. This was in stark contrast to the earlier period.
Promises Are Broken And Possible Future Paths
Many politicians made statements during the ’20s protests about how they would finally do something about systemic racism and police brutality.
Robyn Maynard, the author of Policing Black Lives, explains that these protests all promised a “racial reckoning” in their own unique ways. “assured the public that they had heard the demands that drew tens of thousands into the streets for weeks and months,” Maynard writes of the political leaders.
Based on my findings, these assurances were false. There has been a lot of public support and protests in Canada for defunding the police and reinvesting in communities, but so far, nothing has changed. There has been no sign of the “racial reckoning” that was predicted. But the police departments that did implement smaller increases after 2020 are instructive.
After 2020, Toronto, Calgary, and Edmonton have all approved smaller increases in police spending, with some of that money going to non-police emergency response teams. Rather than responding with police to social rather than criminal emergencies, this approach uses the 911 system.
It should come as no surprise that the cities that spent the most money on non-police response teams also approved the smallest increases in police spending after 2020. Some types of emergency calls have tremendous potential for being handled by non-police response teams.
Traffic Rerouted During Emergencies
In Seattle, it was determined that between fifty and eighty percent of 911 calls could be routed to a non-police team, while Canadian police forces estimated that anywhere from thirty-two percent to eighty percent of calls could be routed in this way.
However, it is necessary to explore additional options. Improving our speed of response to social emergency calls, for instance, is insufficient. Beyond and before any emergency call, the underlying social issues must be addressed.
Social housing, mental health care, drug consumption rooms, and other harm reduction measures are all areas that should be prioritized when reinvesting in communities. There is a compelling argument for reallocating police resources toward these interventions because they reduce the demand for police work.
The broken promises of the past two years and the baby steps toward a different future need to be discussed as cities across Canada evaluate budget priorities for 2023.
The Conversation is a non-profit, independent news organization devoted to publishing the perspectives of academic experts. Concordia University’s Ted Rutland penned the piece. Is this something you’d be interested in reading? Join our email list to receive updates each week.
Half of the police departments spent slightly less than their budget, while the other half spent more. Montréal is once again the most extreme outlier. The city averaged a $29.7-million annual deficit. This level of wasteful spending was unmatched by any other police department. The closest comparables, Vancouver and Peel Region, overspent by $2.45 million and $3 million, respectively.
Overtime is an expected cost of police work and accounts for a significant portion of budget overruns. However, there are instances where police have far more overtime than expected. Most municipalities spend more money on overtime than they have available. Vancouver, the Durham region, and Ottawa all have annual overspending rates of at least 25%, while Montréal’s rate is over 100% higher.