Let’s keep the conversation going about policing

By Samantha McAleese and Marc d’Orgeville. This article originally appeared in the Feb 2021 edition of New Edinburgh News.

Like most community newspapers, the New Edinburgh News provides space to share thoughts, concerns, ideas, and resources that might spark meaningful conversations and connections with neighbours. This article is the result of that particular power of the press. 

In the NEN October edition, Samantha McAleese wrote an article about people experiencing homelessness and living in encampments along the Rideau River. She asked neighbours to connect with community-based services and to advocate for affordable housing instead of relying on the police to respond to poverty and homelessness.

In the December edition, Marc d’Orgeville (chair of the New Edinburgh Community Alliance’s traffic and safety committee) summarized a conversation he had with a community police officer to remind New Edinburgh residents of the process for filing police reports. Advice received from the officer on dealing with issues like break-ins or speeding drivers was to call the police and call them more often, as police rely on community members to be “the eyes on the ground.”  

Samantha received comments about the December article from local advocates, which included: “It sounds like your neighbours are setting up a snitch line,” and “They won’t be happy until there is a cop car on every corner.” These comments were not meant to dismiss the consequences of any violence, conflict, loss, or harm experienced by individuals, but rather to temper the impulse to call the police for every little thing. 

These two articles highlight the need for ongoing conversations about policing and community safety in New Edinburgh and Ottawa. In a neighbourhood as privileged and resourced as New Edinburgh, we should be actively engaged in discussions about the cycle of ever-increasing police funding that does not address root causes of harm, such as poverty.

One conversation started at the December meeting of NECA’s Traffic and Safety Committee, chaired by Marc. Samantha attended the meeting to address concerns and to ask questions about the purpose and intent of Marc’s article. Marc had not imagined that a reminder for residents to report local incidents to the police would elicit such a strong reaction, but he welcomed the opportunity for this more critical discussion around policing. 

As a reactive service, the police rely on calls and reporting to respond to incidents and decide how to allocate resources. Unfortunately, calling the police does not always resolve the problem or make us feel safer. Furthermore, over-reporting maintains the impression that increasing police resources in our community is a viable solution to preventing harm. The need for alternatives to the police is clear and requires strong advocacy. 

Marc and Samantha’s conversation illuminated not conflict but rather commonalities in how we think about police and community safety. For example, we both support City Councillor Rawlson King’s decision to vote against a budget increase for the Ottawa Police Service. Like Rawlson, we both agree with de-tasking the Ottawa Police Service. Armed police officers are not a suitable response to mental health crises, nor do police play a role in preventing or ending homelessness. Additionally, we (along with others in New Edinburgh) appreciate the councillor’s ongoing advocacy for additional funding for social services, supports, and resources that prioritize community care. Finally, we look forward to supporting Rawlson’s work on the poverty reduction strategy for Rideau-Rockcliffe. 

The initial meeting ended with an agreement to keep the conversation going between NECA and all neighbours in the Burgh. Together, we can continue to advocate for programs, resources, supports, and responses that keep care at the forefront. This advocacy is vital for Black, Indigenous, racialized, and unhoused neighbours who are at an increased risk of experiencing police violence and being criminalized. 

One way to advocate is to participate in public consultations. The City of Ottawa has begun Phase 2 of their consultation process for the Community Safety and Well-Being Plan, and we encourage Burgh residents to participate online: engage.ottawa.ca/Community-Safety-Well-Being-Plan.

For a lot of people (especially white people), 2020 was a year of listening and learning more intently about the desperate need for alternatives to policing from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) communities. Affordable housing, mental health supports, safe consumption sites, additional public health resources, youth leadership programs, and community-led conflict resolution and restorative justice options are just a few examples. Let 2021 be the year of acting on these calls for transformation.

NECA’s Traffic and Safety committee meetings take place at 7 p.m. every fourth Monday of the month – the next meeting is Feb. 22. Anyone interested in attending should contact marc.dorgeville@utoronto.ca.

Samantha McAleese is a researcher and advocate who lives in New EdinburghMarc d’Orgeville is the chair of NECA’s Traffic and Safety committee.