Councillors undecided on how best to spend community safety money

· The Pulse

Members of city council's community and public services committee spent a lot of time this week debating how best to spend $8.4 million remaining from the money they diverted from a police funding increase last year.

In the end, they sent the matter to the full council — without a recommendation — to discuss on May 24.

The available funds represent the remainder of $10.9 million that was diverted from a police funding increase in an effort to explore solutions other than policing for systemic issues that lead to poverty and crime. Administration put together 10 business cases for spending that would take steps towards fulfilling the recommendations in the Safer for All report and work towards making Edmonton Canada's safest city by 2030.

Councillors raised questions about whether the money earmarked for these programs was being appropriately applied to pressing problems like the opioid crisis and social disorder downtown.

"I'm quite concerned about the $25,000 dedicated to a drug crisis," Coun. Karen Tang of Ward Karhiio said of the money allotted for drug poisoning response — the lowest amount given to any of the business cases. "If we talk about some of the causes to our social disorder, I think that's a huge one."

Some of the recommended programs are aimed at early intervention and prevention — for example, $200,000 for the Edmonton Public Library's Sing, Sign, Laugh, and Learn program.

"We were trying to be a little innovative," said city manager Andre Corbould in response to councillors' questions about whether that was an appropriate addition. "We had heard from a lot of the community and from council that you didn't want to see the same old things."

Corbould also explained that there were time constraints in determining which proposals to green-light, as there are only seven months remaining in the fiscal year, and preference was given to ideas that could immediately make an impact on the community.

Two pie charts breaking down the proposed one-time and ongoing spending on community safety and well-being initiatives

Members of city council's community and public services committee debated how best to spend $8.4 million that had been diverted from a police budget increase in 2021, as presented in 10 business cases put forward by administration. (Brett McKay)

On Monday, the committee heard from members of the downtown business community who described a "state of crisis" due to an increase in crime and disorder, with many asking for a greater police presence to deter problematic behaviour. Police Chief Dale McFee told the committee that there are already a proportionally higher number of officers downtown than in any other area of the city, and that there were plans to redirect police resources to handle the increase in disorder incidents in the area.

Robert Houle, a member of the Safer for All task force, expressed frustration that the recommendations of the task force weren't being reflected in the committee's actions.

"We are in a crisis state right now with the relationship between BIPOC individuals and the police," he said. "And it's troubling that we can't seem to connect with that and keep going around in circles around 'more police is the answer' when we have more than an adequately funded police force right now."

To assist with the immediate safety issues, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi put forward a separate motion to spend $5 million on outreach, patrols, and daytime shelter space, drawing from provincial funds earmarked for downtown revitalization. That will be debated at a later date.

In the meantime, council's executive committee will face a much bigger set of decisions around police and funding on May 18 as they consider whether to direct administration to develop a revised funding formula and policy for the police budget. The Edmonton Police Commission has said it does not recommend tying funding to performance or freezing the budget, which were two of the recommendations made in the Safer for All report.