A former Maple Ridge city councillor feels money should be reallocated from the city’s police budget and put towards other resources to help police de-escalate situations.
Five-term city councillor Craig Speirs, who ran for mayor in the 2018 municipal election and was the NDP candidate in the 2011 federal election, believes more money should be put into social workers and frontline workers on the streets, people, he said, who “don’t have a gun,” to deal more effectively with police calls.
“If you are going to a dodgy call, I think it’s time to have a cop and a social worker with you, especially domestics. That’s where police tend to get into trouble. That’s where emotions are the highest,” said Speirs.
“I think you need somebody who knows how to deal with inflamed emotions more than somebody who knows how to shoot a gun,” he said.
And Speirs contends that Maple Ridge is a big enough community that money could easily be relocated to make the necessary changes.
“Council is in control of the police budget, so they can re-allocate, no problem,” he said.
Defunding police has come into the spotlight following the death of George Floyd during an arrest in Minneapolis on May 25 that sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the globe.
The budget for policing, including civilians, is around $25 million, said Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden, who does not see defunding public safety as an option.
Police services is expensive to deliver, explained Morden, and he said, it’s gone up a lot through the years.
“We would never defund public safety. Public safety is a very necessary thing to have. In fact, it’s of paramount importance to our council,” he said.
Morden is adamant that there is crime that takes place that needs to be responded to by an armed police officer.
“We would never defund that – ever,” he said.
However, Morden noted that are a lot of other crimes that is driven by social factors.
Those situations might not be criminal acts, he said, but they are offensive to people, and create an unsafe feeling.
That’s why the City of Maple Ridge mobilized the community safety officer program exists, he said.
“These are what I call intervention specialists with understanding,” said Morden. “They are about understanding why this activity or act is taking place.”
Morden acknowledged that there are more mental health challenges today and that police officers, “have to be a lot more things than they ever used to be.”
“It’s a very difficult job to do,” he said.
Ultimately, Morden insisted, he is behind the community safety officer program – the leader of which, he said, is experienced working on the streets, with community resources, working with housing, health care, mental health workers.
“All of those tools that they need in their tool box to try and assist people to hopefully facilitate better outcomes.”
In addition, he said, they also have power and sufficient authority to intervene and stop whatever act is taking place and de-escalate it.