As protests and rallies continue across the U.S. and Canada, many are calling for action from municipalities – in the form of defunding the police.
“Defunding the police is a literal call to action,” said Morgan Mowatt, an Indigenous supporter of the movement and a PhD student in political science at the University of Victoria.
“It means defunding our policing forces and reinvesting in community safety practices that work for everyone.”
To Mowatt, the term means abolishing the police and investing in things like food, housing and mental health instead. For other supporters, it’s not about scrapping police departments, but rather, using most of their budget to invest in those things.
“When we incarcerate and we arrest people, that does not address the root causes for the reason people are committing crimes,” said Devi Mucina, an associate professor at the University of Victoria. “The root causes of incarceration has to do with poverty, has to do with homelessness, has to do with issues of mental health. These are the root causes that we need to put our resources, our planning, our energy into to address these issues. As long as we don’t do that, we will continue to have the same cycle.”
Mucina, who identifies as an Indigenous African, says social workers, for example, would be a better fit for wellness checks. They are specifically equipped to deescalate situations, whereas police officers “mobilize the situation, then talk afterwards,” he explained.
This way, “we would actually limit and put in a smaller part [of the budget] into the police force and say we are only going to engage the police when it really is required,” Mucina said.
Victoria police say they are listening to these concerns and recognize that many people are feeling mistrust when it comes to the police. But first, Chief Del Manak said, we need to pause.
“When we are talking about defunding, we really need to critically look at what does that mean because our police department is actively engaged in crime prevention, actively engaged in meeting the needs of our citizens,” said Manak.
The calls to defund police began in the U.S. in response to police brutality but, Manak noted, Canada is a different country.
“Police officers are hired to a different standard, their level of training, the accountability that they have, the civilian oversight that those police organizations have is much different than what we have in Canada,” he said. “So I think that’s first and foremost. We have to just recognize that there are significant differences.”
The Independent Investigations Office and the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner are two civilian oversight bodies in B.C., Manak said, that add transparency and accountability for police.
With that being said, he added, he recognizes discrimination and racism exists and wants to bridge the gaps between police and community here in Victoria.
“[I want to] really engage community leaders, find out locally what are some of issues and barriers that are stopping many people in these communities from trusting the police,” Manak said. “And whatever that we can do, I want to make sure that I’m there at the front, rolling up my sleeves and making sure that we are breaking down those barriers and building those levels of trust.”
Ninety per cent of VicPD’s budget goes to salaries, administration and service costs, according to Manak.
While no concrete changes to the Victoria police have been announced, other departments in the U.S. are taking action.
The mayor of New York vowed to cut New York Police Department funding for the first time and redirect money to other community resources.
Seattle’s police chief, on the other hand, said she supports more funding for social services, but maintains police will always be needed.