Kamloops politicians have no interest in defunding the police — the city’s single-largest expenditure — despite calls sparked by the George Floyd protests.
But they are in favour of having local Mounties equipped with body cameras.
Kamloops Mayor Ken Christian said calls to defund police are coming from areas served by sizeable municipal police forces, largely in major American cities.
Two Toronto councillors have called for defunding of the Toronto Police Service by 10 per cent, redistributing the money cut to community resources.
Kamloops’ policing budget has grown by more than that number in recent years.
Christian told KTW whenever the city solicits feedback on spending priorities, the public has consistently over the last decade prioritized uniformed services: police, fire and bylaws.
Defunding, he said, would result in increased response times.
“If you’re in any danger, there’s priority one [calls] and it takes somewhere in minutes to get there,” Christian said.
“If we defund the police, it’s going to take x-number plus more. I know for priority three calls, the last time [Kamloops RCMP Supt.] Syd [Lecky] and I were doing an open house in North Kamloops, it was 75 minutes to respond to priority three calls. Maybe it’s going to be an hour and a half. That’s the result.”
Councillors Dale Bass and Mike O’Reilly sit alongside the mayor on the city’s community services committee, which deals directly with RCMP and oversees issues like crime and poverty.
Neither are in favour of defunding the police.
Bass said the Car 40 program, a partnership with Interior Health that pairs mental-health professionals with police officers, is making a difference and council has discussed expanding the program.
In addition, Bass said, the police are working with city bylaws to address street issues.
“It’s never enough, but it is a step in the right direction,” Bass said.
City of Kamloops budget and planning manager David Hallinan said the city’s police budget consists of the RCMP and city support staff.
In 2019, it amounted to 12 per cent of the city’s overall budget and remains the single-largest budget line item — budgeted at $31.7 million in 2019 — followed by fire services, streets and transit.
Kamloops’ police budgets have risen in recent years. From 2015 to 2019, the budget increased by a total of 14.5 per cent, or $4.2 million.
The budget was $30.5 million in 2018, $29.2 million in 2017, $28.1 million in 2016 and $27.5 million in 2015.
The city notes, however, actual dollars spent toward police services has been consistently under budget, due to staffing fluctuations.
Corporate Services director Kathy Humphrey said Kamloops is different from other cities in that it does not have direct control over staffing because it has the RCMP, not a municipal police force.
The idea of a municipal police force in Kamloops has been raised on occasion at city hall, though it is often disregarded due to cost. Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum staked his last election campaign on that very issue and media reports show cost to transition from the RCMP to a municipal police force — still in the works — is estimated at $19 million.
Humphrey said that ongoing restructuring of the city’s bylaws department has been to support the police.
“Lots of the calls to defund the police are to take the funding out of enforcement and into community support,” Humphrey said.
“That’s kind of what we’ve been doing as we reallocate, not reallocating funding, but reallocating resources that have been going into bylaws and changing up what they do.”
Community and protective services director Byron McCorkell explained the city is evolving bylaw officer roles toward community safety, with increased emphasis on education over enforcement.
“Our belief is that everyone wants to be doing the right thing and so we’re going to help them do that,” McCorkell said.
“I think it is starting to show its success. We’ve got a lot of active files where we’re engaged with people and we’re helping them do the right thing. I think that’s been successful.”
In addition, he said, the city is working more closely than ever with RCMP. Bylaws staff are now security cleared to work with police officers, touching base with watch command and aware of issues in the community. As well, police are at the table when it comes to street outreach.
“I think we’re evolving there,” McCorkell said. “It has nothing to do with this defunding conversation, but more about getting our operations aligned. What we’ve created here is community protective services, where we’re bringing all of our agencies together in a much more concerted effort to provide a more holistic approach to things, not just an individual approach. We’ve had great response from the RCMP.
“Superintendent Lecky and his staff have been very easy to work with and definitely part of that idea. I think we’re making good steps forward. We’ve got more to go, but it’s been positive so far.”
In the wake of the Floyd death in Minneapolis and subsequent protests that have taken place around the world, including in Kamloops, the mayor suggested better training and equipment for police would be more appropriate than defunding.
Mandatory use of body cameras has also been called for amid the protests and Christian said he supports equipping some officers with body cameras. He said some would not need such equipment and the costs would be born by the city.
“I think that the public would be surprised to see the result of body cameras on police and understand the kind of difficult situations they go into, in terms of particularly some domestic disputes,” Christian said.
“They are very, very nasty situations and whatever way you come out of it, somebody is not going to be happy. I think it would be enlightening for the public to see what some of these circumstances, in terms of dealing with impaired and irrational people are like, when you’re actually trying to protect people from themselves.”
Bass and O’Reilly also supported equipping police with body cameras. Bass said it disturbs her that evidence of police-civilian interactions, including arrests, relies on people with smartphone cameras. She said body cameras would improve transparency and accuracy when issues should arise. O’Reilly said now is the time to discuss the issue, as negotiations about unionization of the RCMP continue.
“It’s hard to slip those things in after the fact,” he said.
“We’re building a new foundation for the RCMP in Canada as we speak. Now is the time to be doing that.”
Kamloops’ police budget by the numbers:
• 2019: $31.7 million, $1.2 million more than 2018, equating to a four per cent increase;
• 2018: $30.5 million, $1.3 million more than 2017, equating to a four and a half per cent increase;
• 2017: $29.2 million, $1.1 million more than 2016, equating to a four per cent increase;
• 2016: $28.1 million, $600,000 more than 2015, equating to a two per cent increase;
• 2015: $27.5 million.
— with a file from the Canadian Press