Prevent crime before it happens or deal with it after: The upstream battle within Peel police’s budget
There is very little wiggle room in the budget of the Peel Regional Police.
As a result of union contracts, cost of living increases and inflation, approximately 94 percent of the organization’s budget is already locked in for 2022.
But the public is clamouring for change.
Many are demanding a widespread shifting of funds away from the police — which for years has received more than a quarter of the Region of Peel’s entire budget — and into the coffers of community service agencies who are scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to support a growing number of vulnerable people in the region. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing inequities and conditions, putting further strain on housing providers, mental health and addiction supporters, and employment services to name a few.
But when it comes to shifting funds within the PRP budget — totalling approximately $485 million for the upcoming year if a 4.8 percent increase is approved — police leaders really only have freedom to make alterations to about 6 percent this amount, which can make any significant change difficult, and the results desired by the community, not becoming a reality for years.
A funding model that places social services above crisis response has traditionally been referred to as an “upstream” approach — prioritizing investments that keep people healthy, housed and supported in order to avoid interactions with police, and healthcare service providers.
It addresses crime before it even happens.
Following the 2020 murder of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, this type of funding approach was heralded as the key way to eliminate police violence, and became popularized as the “defund” movement, demanding varying degrees of police reform; from a shifting of resources, to absolute abolishment of police altogether.
In Peel, where a predominantly white contingent of frontline officers are tasked with policing a predominantly non-white population, this dynamic has created many harmful realities, including repeated instances of racial profiling — either in the form of carding, known as random street checks, or the shackling of a 6-year-old Black girl — discrimination, and the inability on the part of police officers to understand the nuances and struggles of the communities they are tasked with serving.
For example, a 2017 finding from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal ruled the Peel Regional Police discriminated against one of its most decorated South Asian-Canadian officers, the now retired Staff Sgt. Baljiwan (BJ) Sandhu, and “generally” devalued police work associated with the city’s large South Asian population.
While there appears to be a yawning gap between the public’s desire for change and the work of police, there is common ground.
(Photo from The Pointer Files)
Despite this disturbing disconnect, there is middle ground between those demanding police reform in Peel, and the senior leaders within Peel Regional Police.
In June 2020, nearly 100 residents wrote into the police services board demanding a new approach. The board, made up of civilians and local politicians, is tasked with governing the police service and enacting policies to ensure the work of PRP is effective to deal with Peel’s dynamic issues.
“We urge you to use our tax dollars to invest in care, not cops,” one Peel resident wrote. “Instead of pumping more tax dollars into ineffective and harmful systems, I’m calling for us to be bold in imagining new ways to support victims,” wrote another.
When The Pointer spoke with Chief Nishan Duraiappah in 2019, a few months ahead of his swearing in October of that year, he already expressed a desire to shift funding away from the traditional model that boiled down to hiring more officers to deal with the myriad of issues that fall within the mandate of police. This model fundamentally ignores the reality that for years, hiring more officers in Peel has not resulted in lower crime rates. The year prior, under former chief Jennifer Evans, the police services board rubber-stamped the addition of 55 new officers with a plan to do the same in the coming years.
“We’ll always be the experts on catching the bad guys, but we are also having to turn our minds to forward-thinking models,” Duraiappah told The Pointer in 2019. “That’s the kind of thing that I’ve committed to the police services board, and that’s to start weaving these opportunities into how Peel Regional Police [operates], moving forward into the future. It is a philosophical change that is going to have to take seed right where the rubber hits the road.”
Peel Regional Police Chief Nishan Duraiappah being sworn in as chief in October 2019. The new chief arrived in Peel with a mandate to transform a troubled force.
(Photo from The Pointer files)
In fact, Duraiappah has recognized this connection between those leading major police forces across the country, and those who are currently demanding change like never before. They want the same thing, he told The Pointer in June 2020 following the outrage ignited by Floyd’s murder.
“If you see the grassroots, defund the police movement, apart and aside from the nuances and the difficulties of immediately defunding us, or disarming us — that’s another request — the spirit of what people are saying is exactly what the police have been saying for a long time. We are not the professionals, whether it be mental health or addictions, older adult isolation, youth based problems to be able to resolve them,” Chief Duraiappah said at the time. “The issue being that we’re the 24/7, available, go-to people. We’ve always been saying that the need for other systems to be strengthened in order to get upstream and mitigate risk so that we’re not the one in crisis response, is absolutely the solution.”
However, this problem is not cut and dry. Evident in the protests that erupted around the globe following Floyd’s death — and the protests that have occurred locally following the police shootings of D’Andre Campbell and Ejaz Choudry last year — there is still very much a divide between police and the community they serve.
While there is an agreement on the solution, the community are demanding immediate change. For that reason, the initial request from the Peel Regional Police for a 4.8 percent increase to its budget for 2022, bringing the total to approximately $485 million, is sure to draw disdain from community members.
A 4.8 percent increase is very much the status quo over the last decade. The figure is actually slightly above average, which has seen PRP budgets swell by 4.4 percent annually between 2009 and 2020. Similar increases are projected for the next three years, with an estimated $561 million budget for PRP in 2025.
Projected increases to the Peel Regional Police budget over the next four years.
(Chart from Peel Regional Police)
Making up the largest portion of the budget increase next year is a request for $22.4 million to hire an additional 26 uniformed officers. Approximately $11 million of the increase is tied to cost of living expenses for salaried officers tied to pre-approved union contracts. The budget ask also includes $59.2 million for capital projects, the lion’s share of which, $30.3 million, will go toward maintaining existing facilities and potential expansion. The force is looking at the addition of a new division in the coming years.
According to finance staff within PRP who spoke to the police services board last week, 3.8 percent of the requested 4.8 percent increase is the cost required to deliver the exact same level of service provided in 2021. The additional 1 percent will go toward the new hires, after which the PRP will still maintain one of the lowest ratios of officers per 100,000 of the country’s large police forces. PRP currently has 144.5 officers per 100,000, compared to Toronto’s 162; Calgary’s 159; and Montreal’s 221.2. To match the frontline staffing levels of other major cities, Peel would need to hire hundreds more officers. To match Montreal, Peel would need to hire over 1,000 new officers. The force is cutting six civilian positions (their roles are not specified) to lessen the budget burden.
Peel’s “cop to pop” ratio of officers per 100,000 population is one of the lowest among Canada’s largest police forces.
(Graphic from Peel Regional Police)
Chief Duraiappah admits the “cop to pop” measurement is not always the best indicator of a police force’s success, — PRP’s solvency rates for many types of crime, including violent crimes, are above provincial and national averages —but it provides an indicator of the resources, or lack thereof, a force is using to deliver services to the community.
“We believe this will meet our needs moving forward,” Chief Duraiappah told the board. “While the 26 officers really equate to barely one per shift, but that is one step towards meaningful growth in our region that will start to meet the needs.”
“When the public asks ‘we need to see more presence’, we recognize that. People’s perception of safety is almost more important than what is happening behind the scenes,” he added.
While the document received its stamp of approval from the police services board, the increase is not set in stone. The budget will need to receive final approval from regional council during its full budget deliberations (set to begin November 25).
“We are trying to show a very thoughtful and meaningful shift in how we see these resources that we’re asking for, applied to doing things differently here in Peel Region,” Chief Duraiappah said. “There needs to be a meaningful shift in how policing looks to address the needs of the community, community safety, community wellness and be thoughtful about how we can change outcomes with the resources we have in hand and what we are asking for.”
The 2022 budget marks the third financial blueprint Chief Duraiappah has been involved with for PRP. His first budget in 2020 was mostly a done deal by the time he arrived late in 2019, but he was still able to trim things back, including the reduction of a proposed 55 new officers down to 27, along with the addition of 14 civilian positions on his way to scaling back an initial 6.1 percent increase to 5.4 percent. This was followed by a 3.8 percent increase to the 2021 budget, a below average ask for the PRP over the last decade. In 2022, according to PRP finance staff, the initial increase was proposed at around 7 percent, but had been scaled back to the current 4.8.
The last two years have shown signs the new chief is willing to make the tough decisions when it comes to budgeting. But due to the nature of union contracts and the unsustainable rise in police salaries over the last decade — the result of a powerful police union lobby — it leaves Duraiappah’s hands tied when it comes to altering large portions of the budget. The current contract for officers sees a first class constable start at $100,420, which represents a 41 percent increase from the $71,400 starting salary in 2006. Duraiappah does not have the power to simply freeze police salaries; a decision that would need to be made by the provincial government.
But for the community, the change can not happen fast enough. And in many ways, the PRP and its leadership are failing in other departments to take the concerns of their residents seriously. Most recently, the police services board snubbed a request from a community member to form an anti-Black racism advisory committee, despite use of force data showing Black community members are disproportionately impacted by harmful interactions with police and their own expert telling them the committee would be beneficial; the force has failed to be transparent on its partnership with the Ontario Human Rights Commission; a survey released by the force in September to hear from the community on systemic racism was labelled as simply performative as the police already should know the answers to many of the questions they were asking.
But when it comes to the financials, there are small signs that Chief Duraiappah’s vision of change he heralded upon his arrival in 2019 are starting to become real. Many of these changes are not entirely visible on the surface, but the result of a shifting of resources behind the scenes.
In April 2021, the PRP launched its Intimate Partner Violence Unit, which is now located onsite with the Safe Centre Peel. The unit assisted with 832 IPV calls between April and August of this year. IPV is by far the most common citizen initiated call to PRP, and as these incidents are known to escalate over time, addressing them at the beginning is absolutely critical. These types of calls have only gotten worse throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the 16 homicides in 2020, roughly 40 percent of them involved family or intimate partner violence situations, including the shooting death of 25-year-old Darian Henderson-Bellman, shot to death by her boyfriend who was out on bail for weapons offences after being ordered not to see her. The IPV unit puts PRP resources (48 officers) where they are most needed and provides the incredibly valuable service of connecting those in need with the resources they require at the Safe Centre Peel. It’s a quantum leap from a survivor calling into a police division seeking assistance and being given another number to call. Social service systems are incredibly complicated, made more so by the fact that those who are usually navigating them are dealing with trauma. The simpler it can be, the more people will benefit.
Domestic disputes and intimate partner violence has been a top citizen initiated call to Peel Regional Police for several years.
(Graphic from Peel Regional Police)
In a similar vein, the PRP, in partnership with the region and other community organizations have created a Situation Table which deals with individual cases of Peel residents dealing with increasingly dangerous situations, or complex needs. With all the service providers around one table, they are able to more easily connect the individual with the help necessary, whether that’s housing, mental health, addictions or healthcare.
Through the 2022 budget process, PRP is also putting aside the necessary resources to expand the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams (MCRRT) on the streets of Peel. These MCRRT units pair a uniformed officer with a crisis response worker to respond to calls of people in mental health crisis. The program has proven to be incredibly impactful, eliminating police apprehension in 4 out of 5 mental health calls, but there is simply not enough support to go around. When the initiative launched in January of 2020, two units were on the road, and saw encouraging results. Between January 13 and February 12, 2020, the MCCRT teams were called to 164 instances, of which 46 led to an apprehension, or 28 percent of the time. Peel police say that without the MCCRT team, 90 percent of the cases over that first month would have led to the individual being taken into custody. The trend continued throughout 2020. Mental health calls responded to by a frontline officer alone resulted in an apprehension 83 percent of the time, compared to only 21 percent of calls handled by an MCRRT. The program has since been expanded to three cars, but it’s still not enough. Police estimate uniformed officers are still responding to over 60 percent of mental health crisis calls.
Deputy Chief Marc Andrews says the PRP needs five MCRRT units to meet the demand, and in 2022 they are putting aside the officer resources to expand to a fourth unit. However, this expansion is contingent on funding from the provincial government to the Canadian Centre for Mental Health and Addiction (CMHA) Peel-Dufferin, to fund the crisis worker. It’s something the PRP will advocate for in the year ahead, but the provincial government has a track-record of short-changing the region on many services, including mental health.
These projects have the ability to limit any future interactions with police and service providers. By doing so, it can reduce the future workload on officers, and in the long-run, limit the amount of additional resources that are required from the Region of Peel. This would allow councillors to reallocate those funds to other desperately needed services, accomplishing exactly what the community is clamouring for.
“The community is calling for a strengthening of other human services, so there’s less of an over reliance on systems like policing, where we’re not necessarily the most appropriately oriented,” Chief Duraiappah said.
“We want to acknowledge that the work is not performative and the results take time and part of this is we need to do that and make sure that we are thoughtful about the outcomes.”
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who also sits on the police services board, reassured residents the board had taken a close look at the 2022 budget.
“I don’t want anyone to think we’re rubber-stamping this in any way, that we’ve had lots of time to vet this properly and really understand what the chief's goals are here and question him on almost every line item,” she said.
“I think this is really important for people to understand, this is a process for us, and yes today we’re approving it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the first time we’ve seen this budget.”
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