Residents urging regional council not to increase police budget

By Germain Ma

The Waterloo Regional Police budget was back in the spotlight.

Of the 35 speakers lined up to speak at Wednesday night's virtual public input session on the 2022 budget, around half called on regional council not to increase police funding.

It was the final session before the budget is scheduled to be finalized next Wednesday, December 15.

During the meeting, residents shared personal experiences and expressed concerns around policing.

“We can't police our way out of every problem,” said Sam Nabi, a resident of Kitchener.

Aashay Dalvi, another resident of Kitchener said, “The words: police and violence, go hand-in-hand.”

Dalvi shared a time they went to a police station to report being a victim of violence and were threatened with arrest. 

“I was at the door,” they said. “I was told that I will be arrested. I will be taken in if I refused to answer police officer's questions, and I am here scared, and vulnerable, and frightened.”

Selam Debs, a resident of Waterloo and an anti-racism coach, told council that growing up in a Black community, she experienced unprovoked police violence first-hand.

“I remember the day that I was taking the last bus home from college when my partner and I were thrown off the city bus with extreme force,” she said.

“Police threw me face-down on a cop car and handcuffed me, while I watched in anguish as they threw my Black partner to the ground face-down with five police officer's knees in his back.”

Debs recounted that after a community friend told police officers that he would report the incident, officers let Debs go, but said they would be taking her partner to jail for intoxication.

Debs said that her partner was not intoxicated and that police lied.

She also shared the time that her Kitchener apartment was robbed and she notified police.

“They told me there was nothing they could do because this is what happens when you live in this type of community,” Debs recalled.

Debs added she got the same response from police when she experienced intimate partner violence. 

The two political representatives of Kitchener Centre also expressed support, in an unusual move that split party lines.

Green MP Mike Morrice and NDP MPP Laura Mae Lindo wrote a letter ahead of the meeting.

They said their concern “stems from the fact that we cannot ignore the disproportionate violence toward and/or deaths of Black, Indigenous and racialized people, part of police interactions that stretches back years.”

Both said that it's clear an “unprecedented and historic shift in the way we view policing and the health and safety of our communities” is urgently needed. 

They wrote their hope is that council would reallocate any proposed increase in the police budget to “address the root causes of crime and create greater equity.”

The politicians suggested investing in services like housing, transit, and addiction treatment. 

Appearing on the Mike Farwell Show on CityNews570 on Thursday, Morrice said, “Every year, the only question usually is, how much is the police budget going to rise? My sense is here, there's an opportunity to again, simply reiterate what so many Black, Indigenous, and racialized folks are saying, which is, can we try something different this time?”

Speakers in meeting also suggested that increasing the police budget supported white supremacy.

Other speakers voiced their disappointment to council that police helped remove two homeless people from the encampment at Charles Street and Stirling Avenue.

“In 2022, I'd like to see… a budget that acts like the housing and homelessness crisis is real, a budget that commits funding to an Indigenous community hub, and toward mental health supports for those traumatized by police violence,” Nabi said.

“It's hard to believe the police chief's claim that the sky is falling when the police service is sitting on many millions in reserves and they've already committed $2.2 million for new vehicles for next year.”

Council has been in support of a $12.4 million increase to police budget.

Police Chief Bryan Larkin said the increase is needed to hire 35 more police officers to respond to soaring crime in the region.

Budget Chair Helen Jowett told CityNews that the region didn't keep up with growth of its population in terms of policing.

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