Three council members change position on police budget with new funding formula

· The Pulse

A new funding formula for the Edmonton Police Service was approved on Aug. 23, earning yes votes from three council members who previously said they were in favour of freezing the police budget.

Episode 230 of Speaking Municipally dove into the results after co-host Mack Male attended the debate at City Hall and posted live updates to X (formerly Twitter) about the meeting. The funding formula, which covers the remaining three years of the 2023-2026 operating budget, passed 9-4, with councillors Michael Janz, Erin Rutherford, Ashley Salvador, and Anne Stevenson opposed.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi and councillors Keren Tang and Joanne Wright were among those who answered Taproot's municipal election survey in 2021. They responded to the question "What should be done about the police budget?" by choosing "Freeze it until it is in line with comparable cities."

Co-host Troy Pavlek reached out to the three by email to clarify what new information had prompted them to change their position. Only Wright's response was received in time for the podcast recording, though Sohi and Tang responded after deadline.

"As a candidate I did not have access to the analysis and recommendations of our administration and Edmonton Police Commission," Wright said. "In representing a developing area with rapid population growth, I now hear from constituents that they do not see enforcement in their neighbourhoods related to rising crime and traffic injuries & fatalities that are the responsibility of police."

She added that collective bargaining agreements with the Edmonton Police Association, the Edmonton Police Service Senior Officers' Association, and Civil Service Union 52 from 2021 had not yet been settled prior to the election.

Wright also noted that the funding formula is "not perfect," that she will "not entertain" further service packages, and that she will continue to advocate for crime prevention to avoid further resources going towards enforcement.

Several city councillors facing members of the delegation who are seated in front of computer screens

Following several postponements earlier in the year, city council debated the new police funding formula for about seven hours on Aug. 23. (Mack Male/Flickr)

Edmonton Police Commission chair Erick Ambtman said during deliberations that a funding formula provides predictable, consistent funding and that the commission had no plans to bring forward additional service packages. But Rutherford said in her closing remarks that she expects requests for more funding will continue. Male agreed with that assessment.

"I think the reason we're going to have this funding formula for the next three years is that everybody's afraid of service packages," Male said on the podcast. "But I'm not confident, and I doubt most of council is confident, that we're going to go forward without service packages."

In response to a question from Salvador, Ambtman said he would be fine if the funding formula was amended to prohibit requests for service packages, but EPS chief administration officer Justin Krikler said the service wanted to retain that option. No such amendment was proposed during the meeting.

Similar to Wright, Tang's response to Pavlek cited a "deeper understanding" of council's "legal, regulatory, and governance roles and responsibilities to policing," developed during her tenure as councillor. Sohi, whose office published his closing remarks following the vote, said Edmonton is simply in a different position today than it was in 2021.

"Violent crime, crime severity, and other serious crimes have increased, and we have heard repeated concerns from constituents on drug trafficking, and organized crime," Sohi said in response to Pavlek's inquiry. "The safety of Edmontonians remains the priority of City Council and I. At this time, it is essential to fund and resource law enforcement adequately to ensure we can have more boots on the ground as we work to improve safety in Edmonton with urgency."

His response also included mentions of efforts to provide additional housing and social supports for those experiencing mental health challenges and addiction. Male noted that during deliberations, Sohi directly asked Ambtman and Krikler if approving the funding formula would provide police with the resources needed to improve safety, to which they responded yes.

Hear more about the approved police funding formula on the Aug. 25 episode of Taproot's civic affairs podcast.