Black Lives Matter Sudbury is calling on city council to reject a proposed 6.7 per cent jump in the Greater Sudbury Police Service budget, which they "firmly denounce."
“Sudbury needs social services that will respond to the needs of its population with community care,” Black Lives Matter Sudbury wrote in response to Sudbury.com’s inquiry seeking their opinion on the proposed budget.
“That’s why we will continue to demand defunding of the GSPS and reallocation of these funds towards necessary community-led programs and services such as long-term housing for homeless communities, food security programs, public health services and community-led anti-violence programs.”
Sudbury.com reached out to BLM Sudbury after GSPS tabled its 2023 budget, which proposes a 6.7 per cent budget increase. Since BLM Sudbury speaks as a collective, they issued a written response. It included answers to the questions submitted by Sudbury.com alongside a written statement, whose full text is included at the end of this story.
The police services board is slated to further debate the proposed budget on Jan. 12, and city council’s finance and administration committee will consider whether to approve it on Jan. 17.
In addition to a firm call to action to reject the proposed budget, BLM Sudbury wants city council to fund a “town hall meeting to be led by those most affected by policing in order to craft and finance a community-based and accountable plan to keep community members safe.”
During the 2022 civic election season, Coalition for a Livable Sudbury issued a pledge survey to municipal candidates. One of its seven pledges was drafted by BLM Sudbury. It asked candidates to “actively champion shifting 10 per cent of the GSPS budget to local services and supports such as affordable housing, community-based crisis response and harm reduction.”
It was the least well-received of the seven pledges, with none of the 13 candidates who ended up elected to city council agreeing to it.
Ward 8 Coun. Al Sizer, who chairs the police board, said “no” alongside Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann, who also sat on the police board at the time.
Those who said they were “unsure” included Mayor Paul Lefebvre, Ward 1 Coun. Mark Signoretti, Ward 5 Coun. Michel Parent, Ward 7 Coun. Natalie Labbée, Ward 9 Coun. Deb McIntosh and Ward 10 Coun. Fern Cormier. Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini, Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier, Ward 4 Coun. Pauline Fortin, Ward 6 Coun. René Lapierre and Ward 11 Coun. Bill Leduc did not reply.
Now a few months later and facing a proposed 6.7 per cent police budget increase, BLM Sudbury said it’s time for city council to finally act and push back against annual police budget increases.
“Greater police presence is a major concern for Black Lives Matter Sudbury,” they wrote. “Communities do not respond to intimidation tactics. When it comes to responding to mental health calls and intimate partner violence, police are not equipped to de-escalate these types of situations and often make the situation worse.”
Approximately 83 per cent of the 60,000 calls for service GSPS receives per year are not criminal in nature, and mental health calls for service have increased by 380 per cent since 2017. Police Chief Paul Pedersen addressed these concerns in July 2022, when he highlighted a few efforts to have mental health professionals respond to certain calls instead of police.
“Do we actually need front-line officers, do we actually need guns, Tasers (or conducted energy weapons) and pepper spray responding to that, or are there some other agencies or other ways of de-escalating that or moving that business elsewhere?” he asked at the time, reiterating a common question posed to police.
In light of city police now asking for 24 additional sworn members, BLM Sudbury said Pedersen “continues to speak out of both sides of his mouth.”
Sudbury.com reached out to GSPS communications staff to have Pedersen elaborate on this perceived disconnect, and were instead granted a phone interview with Insp. Dan Despatie.
As Pedersen did during the Jan. 5 board meeting, Despatie highlighted local efforts to have mental health professionals respond to certain calls instead of police.
These efforts include the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team and the addition of four qualified crisis intervention workers to the city’s Emergency Communications Centre to deal with calls that might otherwise result in a police response.
Health Sciences North has been an integral partner in these efforts, Despatie said, adding that despite their support, police still need to join them on many calls.
“Not all mental health calls are the same, which is fair, and sometimes you don't know what it involves until you speak with the person or get there,” he said. “If somebody’s threatening violence or there are weapons involved ... who else is going to respond to that?
“Do we need guns, tasers ... and pepper spray when we’re responding to some of these calls? Sometimes we don’t know the answer as soon as the call comes in, so we try to respond with our most appropriate response in the front-end.”
The crisis intervention workers answering 911 calls are part of this effort, he said. The program started in November, so there’s no data yet on how many calls they are diverting from police. An OPP pilot program saw their crisis intervention worker divert 16 per cent of the calls they received from frontline officer response.
Locally, these workers operate Monday to Friday, from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.
The Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team program either sends a team without officers or pairs officers with a Health Sciences North crisis worker on mental health calls. Alongside this, officers committed to completing extra de-escalation and culturally sensitive empathy-based training.
Between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2022, the team was deployed 149 times, and members were paired with a police officer on 241 calls. Of those apprehended and brought to Health Sciences North, 87 per cent were kept for observation. Prior to the team’s involvement, only 48 per cent of those brought in were kept at Health Sciences North. This, Despatie said, is indicative of mental health calls being more effectively dealt with.
“A clinician versus a police officer, who’s better trained to deal with the mental health crisis?” he said, adding that people are more likely to be properly assessed by medical professionals. Police, he clarified, are still needed to apprehend people under the Mental Health Act.
Although Despatie said he agrees with the sentiment that police should be responding to fewer calls, “in the meantime, and until we get this stuff rolling, people call on us.”
In concert with police advocating for 24 more sworn members within three years, he said there’s ongoing advocacy through organizations such as the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police for additional outside support, including mental health.
“We’re never going to stop looking for efficiencies, we’re never going to stop trying to give people who call us the best response,” he said.
“A lot of times those efficiencies are supported and available through grant funding we get through provincial entities. ... We’re always trying to tap into those resources.”
There isn’t currently anything else to announce as it relates to additional efforts to shift calls from police to other agencies.
Although police have reported that 40 per cent of local survey respondents want more patrols and greater police visibility, BLM Sudbury pointed to a 2020 Over to You online public consultation by the city as including several comments advocating against budget increases.
While a few highlights from the survey have been included in a presentation to the police board, BLM Sudbury note that survey results as a whole have not been made publicly available.
BLM Sudbury is a local incarnation of the broader BLM movement and describe themselves as “committed to fighting systemic racism in all of its forms, demanding that society and all levels of government address and fix the root causes of racism in all institutions.” According to their 2022 AGM in December, their active membership sits at around 15 and the organization is chaired by Ra’anaa Yaminah Ekundayo.
Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.
The following is Black Lives Matter Sudbury’s full statement
Black Lives Matter - Sudbury (BLMS) is dismayed to have to, once again, firmly denounce the proposition by Greater Sudbury Police Services to increase their 2023 budget by 6.7% - nearly double the recommendation by the city council, amounting to just over $73 million. The GSPS is also looking to swear in 24 new members to their police force over the next 3 years, another concerning action that has been strongly opposed by BLMS.
Chief Paul Pedersen continues to speak out of both sides of his mouth. In this recent report (which was not shared with the community until now), Pedersen uses the increase in emergency service calls and mental health calls to support his request for more funding and staff. He notes that calls to support EMS have been up by 40% since 2017, and mental health response calls have been up a whopping 380% since 2017. However, in July 2022, he himself stated the following about police involvement with mental health calls: “Do we actually need frontline officers, do we actually need guns, tasers and pepper spray responding to that, or are there some other agencies or other ways of de-escalating that or moving that business elsewhere?” It must be acknowledged that many community members have shared concerning experiences when interacting with the police in our city.
Black Lives Matter Sudbury stands firm in our knowledge that police officers are not the most useful service to respond to these types of calls and do not contribute to a healthier, more vibrant community. This is echoed by the Centre for Mental Health and Addictions in Toronto, citing that “police are not trained in crisis care and should not be expected to lead this important work” - a message amplified further by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in the Framework for change to address systemic racism in policing, as well as the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police. This proposition comes just days after Toronto Mayor John Tory proposed a $48.3-million budget increase to the Toronto Police Services.
Each year, we continue to be disappointed by our public servants who ignore critiques when it comes to matters of policing and safety within our community. We, alongside countless community members, have made multiple efforts to make our concerns and demands clear to City Council members. And yet, as they continue to discuss police budget increases each year without even the slightest acknowledgement of these sentiments among constituents, they prove themselves negligent in representing community interest and needs. When we took to the streets in the Summer of 2020, police staff, alongside Pedersen, attended the event with signs saying “we are listening, we are learning”. When we presented at City Council, we were promised cooperation. When the city invited residents to fill in surveys and share their input on upcoming budget and spending priorities, we assumed they’d read the responses. Instead, our attempts fall upon those who will not listen. It is past time for City Councillors to act.
We call on City Council and Mayor Paul Lefebvre to reject the proposed increase to the police budget for 2023, to call and fund a townhall to be led by those most affected by policing, in order to craft and finance a community-based and accountable plan to keep community members safe.
Local policing continues to be guided by the wants and needs of white supremacy, with little to no accountability to, or consultation with the marginalized communities that are most affected.
Decision-makers continue to be all white, whether that be the mayor, city council or the police board. We are not asking for more representation on these committees - in fact, we are advocating for more accountability from a service that eats up over half of the city’s funds*, and therefore taxpayer dollars, only to ignore community-based solutions. We know that an improvement in the social determinants of health - housing, basic income guarantee, food security and work to counter racism and discrimination, amongst other things - will be the only way we can thrive as a community. We know that redirecting funds to social services such as mental health supports and community-based initiatives will work directly to reduce harms community members experience. We will continue to demand the defunding, disarming and dissolution of police bodies, and ask our community to think of and act on ways we already keep ourselves safe - and can continue to do so.
See here for a list of ways to do so: Sudbury Alternatives to Police
Black Lives Matter - Sudbury
*Editor’s note: The Greater Sudbury Police Service budget comprised approximately 11 per cent of the City of Greater Sudbury’s gross budget in 2022. On a net budget comparison, the Greater Sudbury Police Service budget was 22 per cent of the City of Greater Sudbury budget in 2022. A gross budget is the full cost, while the net budget is the cost to municipal ratepayers. Police have less room to offset costs with revenue streams than various other municipal operations do.