Councillor Theresa Kavanagh’s Statement on Budget Vote-Ottawa Police Services
After much reflection, I decided to support the proposed Ottawa Police Services budget. I want to take a few minutes to explain my decision.
Let’s be clear. We need drastic change to our police service. There are women, youth, racialized communities, people with mental illness, and low income residents in our city who not only mistrust the police but are terrified of them and in some cases there has been reason for this reaction. We know this is not fair to all the good, professional and competent members of the police. But for many residents, particularly in racialized communities, their experience has led them to believe that they will not be treated fairly or respectfully when they encounter the police. That has to change.
I get the passion of those who corresponded with me on defunding the police. However, I believe that I must bring other factors into my decision-making.
In recent months, I have had the opportunity to have many meetings with members of the police, including Chief Sloly, our Neighborhood Resource Team, leaders in the Ottawa Police Services (OPS), female and racialized officers who are determined to bring about the changes being demanded of the police. That determination is shared by my council colleagues on the Police Services Board. They have already begun to make major changes in hiring practices and have started the broad-based community consultation that will be the basis of any lasting change. I believe that OPS has to be given an opportunity to make that change, and they will need the resources to do it well.
The majority of the people who don’t support the police budget increase want more money invested in community social services, mental health supports and affordable housing. I share that goal wholeheartedly. And I will continue to vote for substantially more of these supports.
I do not believe that the two are mutually exclusive.
We still need an excellent police force that is a key pillar of this city’s safety and well being. I also believe that it is a slippery slope for council to be too closely involved in oversight of the police. The arms length relationship we have with the police is there for good reason, unlike the American model.
On Wednesday, December 9th at City Council, I supported the police budget, but I will be asking for regular substantive reports on how the community’s input is being heard and followed, particularly with reference to women and gender equity issues, and how we’re going to get the police force this city deserves.