In response to the proposed 4.8-per-cent increase in the Greater Sudbury Police budget, Black Lives Matter Sudbury released a call to action on Jan. 14 and later a statement to Sudbury.com.
The group is vehemently against the increase and is using the opportunity to again speak of police reform; most notably, the sheer amount of non-crime related issues that the police are handling, as well as their move towards body cameras.
“In December of 2020, Greater Sudbury Police Services requested a budget increase of 4.8 per cent for the 2021 fiscal year,” the statement reads. “Black Lives Matter Sudbury strongly condemns this motion, along with the adoption of body-worn cameras and continues to call for the Greater Sudbury Police Services to be defunded by 10 per cent, asking that those funds be redirected into community-based supports.”
They also specify the choice to use the word ‘defund,’ as it is often misunderstood by those hearing of the calls for the first time.
“Contention and confusion surround calls for defunding the police, despite the wording being simple and plain. When we talk about defunding the police, we are strictly speaking about reducing the funding provided to police services in order to fund other services better suited to providing community support.”
These other services they refer to are those that are evidence-based solutions to the mental health and addictions crises facing Sudbury – and centre around one specific fact: As per the 2021 board presentation, of the incidents that Greater Sudbury Police Services respond to, only 15-20 per cent of them are crime-related.
“Given that 80-85 per cent of calls to Greater Sudbury Police Services are involving non-criminal issues and that calls related to mental health and addictions are rising, it is critical that we examine the ways in which police presence could change a situation for the worse and change how an individual experiences care,” the Black Lives Matter Sudbury statement continues.
“The threat of violence exacerbates distress, so police presence in a crisis situation has an escalating effect. Police know this. They’re aware of the fact that people have problems trusting them and that people are often afraid. Police are more likely to use lethal force when dealing with someone in psychiatric distress. This danger is disproportionately increased in cases involving Black and Indigenous Canadians and other Canadians of colour.”
The group says that not only is the funding needed only a small part of the overall police budget, but that the community support infrastructure is already in place — it just needs to be properly funded.
The next portion of their statement deals with the use of body cameras. Though Black Lives Matter Sudbury once supported their use, evidence has now shown the group that they are far from the solution to police violence.
“Among our earliest demands as an organization was the adoption of body worn cameras (BWC) across the GSPS, launched at our inaugural Juneteenth event in June 2020,” reads the statement. “On the surface, BWC appear to be an attractive solution to the problem of accountability in a culture of police dishonesty. In reality, BWC are often used to justify police budget increases like this one and make effective cover for a refusal to address what makes racialized communities more vulnerable to police violence.”
The call to action set forth by the group asked them to complete a survey run by the city, as imperfect as they feel it is. (That survey is now closed.)
Police Liaison representative for Black Lives Matter Sudbury Shala Gagnon said not only did the survey not ask for any information about race or gender, only economic position as homeowner or tenant, it also does not separate the emergency services – fire, paramedic and police services. There is no way to acknowledge a wish to defund one without removing funding from the others.
“Even though emergency services are not all funded out of the same part of the budget, they lumped them together on their survey,” Gagnon said. “The city was asking people how important paramedic, fire and police are to them, together, you have to not just do the survey, but you actually have to take time to type in your feedback on that. And that also makes it harder for the city to harvest that data.”
Overall, the group feels it is time to consider what people need in times of crisis.
“We invite our friends, neighbours and leaders to think about what kind of care people need when they’re not doing well,” the statement reads. “People in distress need crisis counselling and connection to resources.
“We need to fund lived-experience-based peer support networks to support mental health needs. We need housing first infrastructure. We need a supervised consumption site for drug users. We need culturally responsive youth programming. More policing cannot solve the issues of systemic racism and poverty and our priority as a municipality should be solutions focused. We have no more patience for band-aids as our Black and Indigenous community cry for peace and safety.”
For more information on the Black Lives Matter position on police services, visit defundthepolice.org