City of Victoria Pledges Millions More to Cops not Homes: By Dani Cooper

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In the last three years crime rates have been decreasing, especially rates of violent crime, by as much as 10% for homicides in B.C. This context has raised questions about why Victoria police budgets have been steadily rising during these same years. The Victoria Police Department’s budget increased by $1,744,198 in 2016, $2,227,963 in 2017, and finally $2,495,610 for 2018, swelling to a budget of $56 million. This bloated funding of police is a trend across Canada, where police are being used to deal with social issues, including homelessness, the overdose crisis, and now issues of mental health.

In Victoria, increased police funding is being justified by portraying police as social and mental health workers, particularly through ACT Teams that pair police with mental health teams. These larger trends are a reason criminalized communities are calling for an end to using police to respond to health and social issues. Police officers being trained to treat issues like poverty, mental health, and addiction as health and social issues is contributing to increased imprisonment affecting largely Indigenous and Black people. Canada now has higher rates of incarceration of Indigenous people than seen in South Africa during apartheid. The incarceration of Indigenous women rose 112% in the same ten year period that the incarceration of white men fell by 1%. Prison budgets in Victoria rose by 18% between 2017 and 2018 to keep up with the rapidly growing population of incarcerated Indigenous people. Rather than invest in social services, Canada is increasing the brutality faced by Indigenous and street communities, creating the very problem that the expansion of police as a health service proposes to solve.

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This winter the University of Victoria conducted a survey about how clients are affected by the inclusion of police in health programs. This study was quite limited; it included only 21 out of 300 ACT clients, and it used no analysis of how race, gender, or other marginalizing forces affects the results of using police as a health service. Other independent reports have found that members of the same Victoria communities that are ACT clients have been physically assaulted by police and have had their belongings seized without cause. Although the UVIC study claims some ACT clients experience improved relationships with ACT police, as the program expands, the vast amount of information ACT clients are sharing with these trusted police officers could readily be used against them in trial. It is too soon to tell if the development of relationships with police could leave ACT clients vulnerable to police violence or criminal charges.

With $56 million in funding, the Victoria Police Department continues to discriminate against, criminalize, fine, and imprison the most marginalized people in Victoria. While the Victoria police chief argues that increased funds are required to respond to health and social issues, under their well-funded watch, homelessness, addiction, imprisonment, and mental health crises continue to grow. Though many calls have been made by marginalized communities to fund health and social services, as well as funding low-income housing, few non-punitive resources have been dedicated by the cities to deal with these issues. While police receive $56 million, low-income housing received only $250,000 from the City of Victoria.

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As far as the results of increasingly relying on police, it’s not looking good overall. In Victoria, the organization Communities Against Criminalization formed this year in order to share a simple truth: the expansion of police has resulted in one of the highest periods of incarceration in Canadian history. Communities across Victoria are calling for social and health services not based in policing and punishment and coercion, but on healing, development and strengthening of community ties and resources, the ending of the criminalization of addiction and poverty, and an end to imprisonment.

Despite these calls, only police are receiving significant funding. Until the Canadian government is willing to dedicate similar resources to actual social and health services, we will not see a reduction in overdose deaths, poverty, homelessness, addiction, mental health, and imprisonment. As millions are given to police, these issues continue to only get worse. It might be time to try a new strategy and dedicate $56 million to raising welfare rates, counselling and addiction services, and the housing we need.

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