By Lethbridge Herald on November 25, 2020.
The Finance Committee of city council voted to cut $1 million from the overall Lethbridge Police Service budget in 2021.
The cut represents 2.75 per cent of the total police service budget, or about half of what council has been asking other City departments to absorb during this budget cycle.
Council left it up to the police to decide how they want to make these cuts as they are governed by the police commission and not city council.
When the $1-million cut was first introduced, Coun. Jeffrey Coffman attempted to amend the resolution to have the savings redirected to social services in the community which help with broader crime prevention initiatives in Lethbridge.
Mayor Chris Spearman reminded councillors of the provincial government’s recent warning that if a municipality cut back local police budgets and redirected the money toward social services, the province would claw back that money from overall transfers to the community.
Coffman felt council should not simply cut the police budget and put the funds into tax savings instead of using it to tackle some of the underlying social problems which lead to greater crime in the community.
However, Coun. Joe Mauro reminded councillors if they wanted to redirect funds to social services such as those proposed by Coffman after the budget process was complete that would be a better way to go. He did not feel the funding reduction to the police should be tied in any way to increasing social funding as Coffman had suggested, which would simply muddy the underlying financial problems council was focusing on during the budget process.
Coffman’s motion was defeated 7-2 with only Deputy Mayor Rob Miyashiro and Coffman in favour.
Returning to the main motion, Mauro wondered why the police service shouldn’t be absorbing a five-per-cent cut like every other city department.
Both Spearman and Coun. Blaine Hyggen, who both sit on the police commission, responded they felt such a cut would be excessive in this instance — given the crime problems facing the community and the fact the LPS spends most of its funding, (85 per cent), on personnel.
Hyggen went on to state during debate he was not in favour of any cuts at all. He pleaded with councillors to not cut back the police budget at a time when Lethbridge was ranked as the number-one jurisdiction for crime among municipalities. He also referenced the IPSOS Reid poll referenced by council earlier in the week which showed safety was the number-one concern of citizens.
In response, Coun. Belinda Crowson reminded councillors that the LPS budget was the only department in the City which received a substantial increase in funding in 2018, and every department in the City was being asked to absorb much greater cuts than the police service was during the reopening of the four-year budget this week.
The motion to recommend that city council reduce police funding by $1 million in 2021 passed 5-4, with Councillors Parker, Mauro, Hyggen and Mayor Spearman opposed.
Spearman later stated he felt there may be some room for budget reductions in the Lethbridge Police Service, but he did not know what the proper minimum number was for council to consider in this instance. And thus said he could not support the $1 million number presented by his Finance Committee colleagues on Wednesday.
Spearman hoped his fellow councillors would be open to revisiting the police budget again at the end of the week before sending a final budget document on to city council for ratification at next Monday’s public meeting.
“The process, I believe, hasn’t been complete; so we may come back and revisit that,” he said. “That $1 million, there was no detail behind it, and it may turn out as we complete our reductions that we can come back and revisit that resolution. I think everybody wants to be sure the police are well funded, but I am concerned the police have had regular surpluses. And maybe they get too much money. So I would be willing to consider reductions to the police budget, but I just couldn’t today support an arbitrary number.”
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