A city in the Ottawa Committee has approved a strategy to tackle issues such as poverty and mental health that are less dependent on the police, although the province has not yet offered extra money to help make this shift.
The Ontario government requires all municipalities to approve something called a community safety and well-being plan, and Ottawa arrives a little late for the July deadline.
The plan falls under the Police Act because the province is trying to move away from practice with police sent to non-criminal incidents. Instead, other organizations will soon address the root causes of problems before they become high-risk.
Ottawa’s version sets broad goals tailored to this city, which include getting fewer people to use food banks, informing women and others exposed to gender-based violence about available resources, and seeing police deal with mental health crises less frequently.
“What you have before you set out to have a coordinated approach to a lot of things that we have tried to achieve … in different silos,” said Anthony Di Monte, the outgoing general manager of emergency and protection services .
The City of Ottawa and its Public Health Unit are already running a long list of programs, including a 10-year housing and homelessness plan, an anti-racism secretariat and a new “guidance council” aimed at developing a mental health strategy that has evolved beyond Ottawa Police Service.
The upcoming 2022 budget will include money for four positions to fill the gaps and how to pay for programs to deal with what may be missing. Funding from other levels of government would be required, Di Monte said.
Health centers offer ideas
In committee, local health and resource centers talked about results from their own coordinated report on restoring safety in the community and gave councilors a list of projects and their costs.
The report’s lead researcher, Sean Meagher, described many police interventions involving young people who are homeless or facing mental challenges.
“Picking up young people and targeting them and then releasing them, and then picking them up again … does not make anyone safer or improve anyone’s life,” he told councilors.
“It’s a much better use of tax dollars to invest in things that yield positive results.”
Health centers listed a number of ways to fill gaps, such as $ 1 million for a new drop-in center to give homeless people a place to go during the day, or $ 2.2 million to expand Youth Services The agency’s mobile crisis team, so it’s available around the clock.
Councilors were also eager to see something happen with this provincial-oriented strategy.
“I do not want to see this plan evolve and then just sit on a shelf,” Coun said. Eli El-Chantiry and city staff assured him that they also consider its work urgent.
grev. Diane Deans, chair of both the Ottawa Police Services Board and Crime Prevention Ottawa, saw the community safety and wellness plan as a “basic document” and said the city needs to better fund programs to help avoid incidents where police getting involved.
“All too often, we resort to our police service to help keep our community safe,” she said. “By default, police respond to calls, not necessarily because they are the best answer.”