The current policing model may be working for many people; however, for numerous vulnerable, marginalized, and racialized communities in Edmonton, policing has long been viewed with mistrust and with cries for an overhaul. How do police officers, peace officers, and bylaw officers engage with vulnerable communities with a non-biased lens? How do we ensure that public trust towards policing is restored for all Edmontonians? A first step in the right direction was city council’s decision to create The Community Safety and Well-Being Task Force whose mandate was to critically evaluate existing systems and put forward actionable recommendations outlined in the recent Believe Us report.
Recent stories in the media of interactions between our policing system and the public provide evidence of the realities faced by some Edmontonians. The report highlights events in 2021 where police forced the homeless out of a downtown LRT station in -30C weather as they were eating food from the Bear Clan Patrol. Similarly, over three months, five Muslim women were the victims of racially motivated hate crimes where Edmonton Police Service (EPS) could have taken a more proactive role in denouncing these incidents with a zero-tolerance message, but unfortunately little more than police protocol was followed.
For an institution whose primary obligation is to help build a safer society and be peacemakers, I am not sure if the feeling of safety for marginalized Edmontonians has increased.
The Believe Us report identifies 14 recommendations to improve policing to meet the needs of all Edmontonians. Some recommendations can be implemented immediately, while others will be on the 2021 city council agenda. Fulfilling these recommendations will require courageous leadership, which is why any change to our policing system must come from the top down. A key recommendation is for the Edmonton Police Commission to provide strong guidance and oversight to EPS, to drive inclusivity and anti-racism in policing. For Edmontonians to regain confidence in our policing system, we need to know our leaders are committed to holding our police chief, police officers, peace officers, and bylaw officers accountable to those recommendations.
Many other cities have taken an all-or-nothing stance regarding policing, arguing that defunding the police is the answer. The Task Force has taken a more balanced view, saying there needs to be an examination of the police pricing index, which allows for a continual increase in the police budget without any evidence of need. It’s important to attach concrete and measurable outcomes to the money our police services receive from the taxpayers.
Their recommendation is to use a portion of EPS funding to support alternative initiatives and identify agencies who can act as an additional support resource for the community.
We know that police play a vital role in keeping our communities safe, but as our communities grow and diversify, they cannot meet all our needs on their own. A modern, integrated approach to policing will better serve our communities. Mental health, social services, and community organizations will bring different perspectives to the community safety and well-being system for all Edmontonians.
In 2021, everyone should be able to trust that when they call 911, the person who shows up will be an individual without bias, with cultural competence, an inclusive lens, and a supportive mindset, who will use their position of power with compassion and respect. How do we achieve this goal? The report recommends we build a diverse, inclusive, anti-racist culture through the evaluation of the recruitment of police, peace officers, and bylaw officers. The Task Force also calls for meaningful and ongoing training in diversity and inclusion for law enforcement personnel with measurable outcomes to determine the training’s effectiveness. Provide training on power, privilege, inclusion, and anti-racism; evaluate the outcomes of this training and adjust accordingly. Begin collecting race-based data on when ‘use of force’ is used. As well, use an anti-racism and gender-based analysis lens when creating policies.
The Believe Us report lays out how to ensure community safety and trust in our law enforcement is experienced by all Edmontonians. The recommendations will allow us to reimagine what our policing ecosystem will look like in the future. Edmontonians know that any kind of systemic change takes time and commitment, but it must begin with our city council, Edmonton Police Commission, EPS, community organizations, social service agencies, mental health professionals, and taxpayers. The recommendations are a road map to ensure the voice of the marginalized and racialized is paid attention to. It is time to turn these recommendations to action!