Defunding the Police: What does it mean for our economy?
A Btchcoin 101
By Sydney Piggott
Over the last couple months, an increased awareness of state violence and police brutality against Black and Indigenous communities has triggered a new wave of bold, courageous activism for racial justice.
People have taken to the streets by the thousands to demand transformative change to protect and honour the lives of Black and Indigenous people who have been, and continue to be, unjustly killed by police. A key call to action in this movement is to defund the police.
So, what does it actually mean to defund the police?
If you used the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter, this is what you signed up for. Defunding the police is a core element of the original Black Lives Matter movement in the US and the chapters here in Canada. In fact, it’s part of a series of demands that aims to also demilitarize, disarm, and ultimately dismantle policing.
Defunding the police means redirecting public funds spent on police services and investing them into social and community services. Some calls for redirecting police funds focus on a percentage of the budget, such as the recently defeated motion to defund 10% of the Toronto police budget, while some may call for more, or the entirety of the budget.
It’s a response to two realities that affect Black and Indigenous people and people of colour disproportionately:
First, the causes of crime are overwhelmingly rooted in social, economic, and familial factors that would be better addressed through well-trained social service providers and better economic support for the poor. Some of these factors include lack of education or employment opportunities, lack of access to housing and social services, and family violence. According to the 2016 census, more than 20% of racialized communities are low-income in comparison to 12% of non-racialized communities.
Second, police in Canada disproportionately target Black and Indigenous communities, which results in a higher percentage of people from those communities being killed in interactions with police. For example, Black people are 20 times more likely to be killed by police in Toronto, six times more likely to be carded in Halifax, and more than twice as likely to get stopped by police while driving in Ottawa. 36% of people killed by RCMP over the last decade were Indigenous, despite making up 4.9% of the population according to Statistics Canada.
The push to defund the police also acknowledges that police often don’t prevent violence, but rather respond to incidents of violent crime and that prevention is a better approach to making our communities safer. It’s important to note that this is just one step in a broader movement to eliminate policing and ultimately abolish the carceral state entirely.
How much does policing in Canada cost?
In Toronto, Canada’s largest city, “police service is the largest expenditure in the Toronto city budget making up more than 23% of the average property tax bill and amounting to more than $1 billion annually since 2015.” In Montreal, the police operating budget amounts to over $660 million dollars. For comparison, the social housing budget is only $115 million annually. The Calgary police budget, that was recently cut, is still over $400 million annually, while services like public transit receive less than $250 million each year. Vancouver’s police budget has grown to $314 million in 2020 and makes up approximately 20% of the city’s total budget.
But what if we’re concerned about immediate crime prevention, investigations, or financial crime?
Some people are concerned about immediate threats, or the possibility that crimes may not be investigated. Calls to defund the police do not necessarily include eliminating these services.
In an editorial in the National Post, Calum Marsh puts it well: “But defunding or even abolishing the police entirely, doesn’t mean that no one should investigate murder. It simply acknowledges that a very, very small percentage of cops are involved in murder cases to begin with, and that the overwhelming majority of cops are involved day to day with situations they are plainly unequipped or ill-suited to deal with.”
Where will the money go?
The goal of defunding the police is not just to eliminate harmful policing practices, but also to invest in community and social welfare services that support those who are made vulnerable by the state.
It’s important that this investment goes toward services that are appropriate for Black and Indigenous communities and don’t replicate other systems of oppression that exist outside of policing. Sandy Hudson, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto, suggests alternatives to policing such as “well-trained social workers, sociologists, forensic scientists, doctors, [and] researchers,” as well as “a new emergency service that connects us with unarmed, mental health emergency service workers specifically trained to provide the health and social care required in crisis situations.”
It’s no secret that the Canadian economy is in recession and redirecting funds from police services could help to address growing deficits and funding gaps for social services.
In Toronto, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to cause a $1.5 billion deficit and Mayor John Tory announced in May that many services could be cut substantially, including a $575 million cut for public transit and significant cuts to shelters, long-term care, and childcare subsidies. In the province of Quebec, the deficit for this fiscal year is set to reach $14.9 billion–the highest in the province’s history, even worse than during the Second World War. Federally, the COVID-19 pandemic could cause the economy to contract by 6.8% and reach a deficit of over $250 billion. Now more than ever, redirecting funds to social services is a viable alternative to funding police budgets.
For more information on defunding the police and alternatives to policing, check out Black Lives Matter Canada and Defund the Police. Be on the lookout for more Btchcoin 101s on topics related to #BLM!