Over the course of several days, more than 150 people gave their thoughts about how the police should police in Edmonton.
There have been calls for “the abolition of police” and demands to “break down the systems of racism.”
But when it comes to changing the way police do their jobs, it’s the civilian oversight body through the police commission, which decides how the service allocates funding.
The move was designed to keep politics out of policing.
“I think the biggest power that council has is to adjust how much money gets transferred to the police commission,” explains Shami Shandhu, a former chair with the commission.
“If we’re going to make change, we need to have positive dialogue.”
The Edmonton Police Association wrote an open letter to Edmontonians agreeing, for example, that police should not be the first agency for mental health checks.
But it warns about arbitrary cuts, without a realistic plan if there is a shift to a more social agency-based response to some calls.
“You have to make sure that things are taken care of in the proper way,” says Michael Elliott, the president of EPA.
Elliott says if there is a move to a more civilian-based approach, that there has to still be some kind of independent oversight authority.
“Everyone that’s dealing with an individual from a rights perspective and/or a medical perspective, we’ve got to ensure that we are all held accountable.”
As for the underlying issue driving this whole debate: systemic racism and how police treat certain groups, Elliott says the focus should not be on police alone, adding “the whole society needs to have a general discussion on this.”
Next week, council will decide how deep the review of police will go; all sides watching this highly contentious, and for now, very political debate.
“I’d like to hope that the commission maintain its independent role and take the feedback from the community, take the feedback from city council, but still take a look at the facts,” says Sandhu.
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