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Police defunding not on the table in Richmond

While a movement to defund or even abolish police forces is gathering momentum in cities throughout North America, it appears to be a non-issue here in Richmond.

While a movement to defund or even abolish police forces is gathering momentum in cities throughout North America, it appears to be a non-issue here in Richmond.

Cities across North America have seen widespread protests over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was pinned under the knee of a police officer in Minneapolis for nine minutes and died.

This has led to calls for police reform, defunding of police departments and action to fight racial discrimination.

In Minneapolis, the city’s own government is calling to disband the local police force.

In Vancouver, there are calls to “defund” the police force ­and transfer some of their budget into social services. And in Burnaby the RCMP were heavily criticized for posting a photo on social media of an armed officer in a school in the wake of North America-wide Black Lives Matter protests.

However, Richmond Mayor Malcolm Brodie said he’s “content” with the service provided by Richmond RCMP, saying the city has other social and diversion programs that complement work done by the police.

“I don’t think there’s any comparison to what’s happening in the United States. While nobody can claim perfection in terms of policing, I think they do a pretty good job,” he said.

RCMP Supt. William Ng, officer in charge of the Richmond detachment, said they work “very hard” to engage with the community, in the schools and with various faith communities, meeting with faith leaders regularly, to be seen in a positive light and to foster trust rather than being seen as a threat.

“Just being engaged with all our activities in our community we can get ahead of it,” Ng said. “Being supportive and being out there and fostering that relationship - building positive relationships - with everyone is how we can overcome this.”

However, those calling for the defunding of police argue community social work should be done by the social sector, not by the police.

They point to the recent case in Edmundston, N.B, police where a woman was shot and killed by a police officer during a “wellness”  check.

Providing social service agencies  a portion of the funds provided to police  would better address the determinants of crime, protestors argue.

The Richmond RCMP budget is the city’s largest single expense, about $56 million. This is about 22.5 per cent of the city’s entire budget.

In 2019, the city approved hiring 51 new officers and 20 support staff for the Richmond RCMP over three years. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and declining revenue, the city has deferred hiring 12 new officers and five support workers for this year.

Also last year the department added a mental-health car that is staffed by a mental-health nurse and a police officer to respond to the increasing number of calls of people in mental and emotional distress.

According to the city’s spokesperson, Clay Adams, the RCMP controls its own budget and the city doesn’t micro-manage their operational budget.

But Brodie said the RCMP bring their local priorities to council annually for approval and they meet monthly with council’s community safety committee as well as making themselves available to discuss issues whenever needed.

“I believe they’re very responsive to local needs,” he said. 

Brodie pointed out Richmond funds a restorative justice system and a youth intervention program as well as other programs as well as having a social inclusion strategy. The police also run the DARE – Drug Abuse Resistance Education – program for all students in Grade 5.

Furthermore, he said the fact the local detachment has hired ethnically diverse police officers helps foster trust even with people who come from countries where the police aren’t trusted.

“I think what the RCMP do is very effective and we have been aggressive in the last term and this term and we’ve added dozens more police officers to ensure we’re keeping Richmond safe,” Brodie said.

The IIOBC investigates deaths or serious incidents that police are involved in and Brodie is confident in how they operate.

“They do a thorough analysis and make sure that the situation is properly dealt with,” he added.