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Waterloo Region advocacy group opposes proposed police budget increase


December 3, 2021
By Canadian Press / Local Journalism Initiative

Dec. 2, 2021, Waterloo, Ont. – It’s been over a year since thousands gathered in downtown Kitchener to declare that “Black Lives Matter” as a protest against racism and police brutality. Since then, there’s been a national conversation questioning the role and use of police, and whether policing and punitive punishment is the best way to address social wrongs. One local group says that it isn’t.

ReAllocate WR is a collective dedicated to reallocating police funds and reinvesting those funds in services dedicated to serving marginalized communities. They say that the Waterloo Regional Police Service’s proposed 2022 budget of $197.8 million does not actually address the root causes of crime.

“Increasing police personnel does not actually prevent or reduce crime because what we know is that it doesn’t actually address the root causes of crime in society, which is social inequity,” says ReAllocate WR spokesperson Jessica Hutchison. “We actually have to address these issues with less policing and more investment in approaches and services that facilitate pathways to sustainable and dignified livelihoods.”

There is research to support what ReAllocate WR is advocating for. A study from New York University shows that in a city of 100,000 people, each new non-profit community organization that was established led to a 1.2 per cent drop in the homicide rate and a one per cent reduction in the violent crime rate. Similarly, another study from the University of Ottawa showed that youth mentoring was effective in reducing crime.

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ReAllocate WR is calling for police funds to be reallocated to mental health services for marginalized communities, developing social housing and establishing an Indigenous community centre at what was formerly the Charles Street Transit Terminal in Kitchener.

Hutchison points to the August shooting of a young Black man in Kitchener, who was in mental health distress and was subsequently shot by police, as to why police are not the best people to handle social problems such as mental illness.

“The person who’s actually the most at risk during the crisis is the person who’s experiencing the crisis,” says Hutchison. “Research also shows that police officer presence can actually increase the risk to that person experiencing the crisis because they feel unsafe by the police.”

A study by the Canadian Mental Health Association’s British Columbia division shows that in situations where police are involved, people experiencing mental health issues are more likely to be criminalized and arrested, with those with mental health concerns making up 15 to 40 per cent of people in jail.

Waterloo Regional Police Chief Bryan Larkin has said in previous statements that police should not be the primary caregiver when dealing with mental health or crisis intervention. The Waterloo Regional Police Service currently works in conjunction with the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington to operate IMPACT, a mental health crisis response program that saw a 746 per cent increase in usage in 2021.

In response to the increase in the police budget, Chief Larkin said at a Nov. 17 police board meeting that “as a community leader I would not be in front of the board asking for an investment in resources if I didn’t believe they were required.”

“We’ve invested in continuous improvement, we’ve invested in innovation and we are transforming and reforming, but we also have significant, complex criminal issues,” said Larkin. “We also have social issues, and we don’t own 100 per cent of those social issues. We may have a role at the table in diversion and support, but we don’t necessarily own all of those issues.”

Council is set to finalize the budget for the Region of Waterloo, including the police budget, on Dec. 15. One of four public input meetings for the budget will be held on Dec. 8.

Hutchison says that police have a role in often addressing social issues with punitive actions, and that such social issues keep arising because the region has not invested in the right issues.

“I’ve heard the phrase a lot lately that we want to create a world-class region,” says Hutchison. “So what that means is that we need to be able to have everybody in our region get what they need in order to lead dignified lives. That’s the key piece here, the dignified life piece, and in order for that to happen, we can’t keep investing in punitive ways of addressing harms and people who are struggling.”


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