Four deputants were registered to speak at the virtual Barrie Police Services Board public input budget meeting Thursday night, but the most disruptive attendees were there purely to cause chaos.
Despite repeated attempts at Zoom-bombing by anonymous attendees, deputants shared their thoughts going in to the 2021 budget, which included calls to reduce the police budget, reallocate money to social services, and imagine a world where mental-health supports and social services could be reached 24/7 by calling one number.
Amber Beckett asked questions of the board to start her deputation, requesting board members answer them if they were able at the end of the meeting.
“Have you heard any officers complain about some of the jobs they’ve been required to take on? Are there certain calls that it’s easier to get officers to attend over others? Are there jobs that you may wonder whether your staff have been adequately trained for?” asked Beckett.
Beckett talked about mental-health supports and the increased pressures officers may be facing.
“Many people operate from the premise that more officers mean less crime, but I don’t believe that’s true,” she said.
Beckett pointed out that the Barrie police budget accounts for 20 per cent of the city’s tax dollars, and the budget continues to grow, outpacing inflation.
“It has also grown faster than our population has,” she said. “I believe this is actually making your job harder. While we under fund auxiliary services that support public safety, it puts more pressure on the officers.
“It’s easy to stick with the status quo when things feel overwhelming,” Beckett added.
During Beckett's presentation, Zoom-bombing began with anonymous members in attendance swapping out their video and audio for inappropriate messages. The first instance was of a male dancer in a thong played over by loud house music to drown out speakers. While staff members were eventually able to mute all audio to continue with the meeting, the video barrage continued with videos ranging from other dancers, to people yelling, a video of KKK members burning a cross, crude cartoons, and outright cartoon pornography.
After the meeting, Barrie police addressed the interruptions through social media, attributing them to "technical challenges."
Daniela Chase called for the defunding of police and to reallocate some of the funding to mental-health services.
“In 2018, nine Ontario police officers died by suicide,” said Chase, adding that a report released in 2019 shed light on how many calls to police are now mental-health calls, accounting for about 40 per cent of all calls.
“It’s time to build something new, something that recognizes and values the lives of all citizens, not merely the affluent, influential and authoritative,” she said. “Defunding the police is how we can sustainably create new, different, better and socially just systems that serve and honour the humanity of all of us.”
Lisa Streets said she was relatively new to Barrie, having moved to the area two years ago. She presented ideas discussed with Barrie’s Reimagine Public Safety Forum, where a number of residents came together to talk about what public safety means to them.
“Something we noticed in our discussions is people don’t know what resources are available in the community or how to connect to them. We suspect some of the calls made to 911... are made because they don’t know who else to call,” said Streets.
Streets said she hopes Barrie police will consider call diversion as part of their action plan moving forward, going so far as to suggest that when calls come in to 911, they could be diverted directly to an appropriate service beyond police, fire or ambulance.
“That way, police services could be used appropriately in emergency situations,” she said. “We wondered if some of the health crises could be avoided if people knew how to access appropriate resources.”
Streets pointed to 211 as an example of a service where she would like to see more investment and suggested the service be more widely advertised and communicated.
“We need to invest in public education so people know what that solution is,” she said.
Michael Speers outright called for a 50 per cent reduction in the Barrie police budget, with the end goal of abolishing the police department altogether.
“We need to keep in mind that this debate isn’t really about reallocating money. Defunding the police is about deciding as a community how we want to care for and look out for each other,” he said. “Change starts by recognizing the institution of policing for what it actually is... as a tool of social control.
“Police protect property and institutions. Their legal duty to protect people remains questionable,” he added.
Speers said reforming the police has not worked in the past and will not work in the future, either.
“Police are simply unable and ill-equipped to solve modern-day problems and societal issues,” he said, adding the only solution would be to form a new, municipally run public safety and community service system.
“We simply cannot invest any more money into this system that hurts our community,” said Speers.
Speers questioned police investment in body cameras, which he called “ineffective surveillance weapons” that take money away from community services.
Board members did not answer questions or provide comment at the end of any deputation or the meeting.
If you missed the meeting, there are other opportunities to provide input on the Barrie police budget. A questionnaire is now available here.