De-funding police is not a rallying cry in Red Deer where city council approved nearly the same RCMP budget in 2021 as in 2020.
Mayor Tara Veer said there’s no question of reducing next year’s police budget since Red Deerians have waited a decade to get a downtown police patrol and finally have a full contingent of officers.
Public feedback on the downtown police patrol has been resoundingly positive, so transferring money from the police budget to social services programs, as some communities are considering, “would be at cross-purposes” with the sentiment of most Red Deerians, she added.
Veer noted, “Crime and public safety continue to be the number one community concern and council has considered that in the deployment of resources.”
The city is paying for about 173 RCMP officers — which is as close to a full contingent as the city has had in many years, said city manager Allan Seabrooke.
Although additional RCMP officers were added the Red Deer detachment over a series of years, no additional officers were approved in 2021. And only a modest increase in the police budget was approved for inflation and contractual requirements — going to $39.6 million from almost $38 million in 2020. The projected amount for 2022 is $40.3 million.
“De-fund the police” became a rallying call last summer after complaints arose from parts of Canada and the U.S. over how some police forces dealt with mentally ill or black suspects. Some advocates were calling for more police sensitivity training and less involvement in calls involving mentally ill people.
Seabrooke said he hasn’t heard concerns about local police overstepping boundaries, or acting inappropriately when responding to calls.
Municipal and RCMP leaders are “constantly looking at operations, pivoting and making changes” to try to improve crime reduction, he added. Although Seabrooke hasn’t sat down to speak directly to any social advocates, he said he’s familiar with their position, but remains “fundamentally against” de-funding police as he doesn’t believe it would serve citizens well.
If more money is required for local mental health, the city will find it — only not at the expense of police, Seabrooke said.
Funds were approved in last year’s city budget for starting a Social Diversion Team in Red Deer, which will be up and running in January.
Tricia Hercina, the community services and social planning manager, said the team will consist of at least two members with mental health training who can be deployed into the community to deal with a disturbance after somebody calls the 211 human services number.
The team will help diffuse the situation and transport the person in crisis to wherever is most appropriate — whether hospital, shelter or agency, she added.
Once the new social diversion team is launched, the city will have a new option for crisis situations that are neither criminal nor medical in nature. “We will have a triage process and start with 12-hour coverage…. I am looking forward to it,” said Hercina.
“We are very careful not to contribute to the de-fund the police conversation,” she added, as officers and mental health workers each have a role to play.