Defund the Police YGK: A Response to Kingston Police Association President

On September 24th, Kingston Police Association President Cameron Gough penned a guest column in The Kingston Whig-Standard outlining his union’s opposition to any and all calls to defund the police in Kingston. He made some important points, but he also made misleading and sometimes vastly inaccurate claims regarding our city’s municipal budget. In turn, his letter seriously misrepresented one of the core issues at the heart of calls to “defund” the police. His letter also failed to acknowledge other compelling reasons why residents of Kingston, as well as citizens across Canada, are calling for their city council to redirect funding from the police.

In response to these calls, we appreciate that Gough asserted the importance of engaging in careful discussion, and on defining the issues surrounding reallocating funds (defunding). This is urgently necessary in our community. We agree that vulnerable members of our community need adequate services and support — and we should all know those services are currently woefully inadequate. We agree with Gough that change is possible and achievable.

But let’s remember that Gough is not a neutral voice in this conversation. As the President of the Kingston Police Association, Gough has a duty to serve the interests of the members that he represents. Police Associations advocate and bargain on behalf of police, by, for example, successfully implementing the payscale in which a new recruit in Kingston can expect a 67% increase to their salary in under 4 years. Gough and his ilk are indeed highly effective negotiators: those constables in their 4th year of service went from making $92,550 in 2016 to making $100,395 after the 2017 collective agreement. This number doesn’t even factor in the “frequent” overtime that Gough mentioned (the hourly wage for that rank is $48).

Knowing Gough’s professional commitments, let’s take a closer look at his claims. Without acknowledging the absurd raises that KPA members continually secure, Gough writes that Kingston Police are severely underfunded. He also states that the Kingston Police’s budget allocation is less than the average in Ontario. It’s important to note that Ontario has the highest police spending per capita compared with the rest of Canada. And even within Ontario, let’s remember that other cities are doing much better in this regard than Kingston, such as Toronto (9%) and Ottawa (9.5%).

Gough goes on to inaccurately state that the Kingston police are allocated “less than 10% of the municipal budget.” According to 2020 budget details published on the City of Kingston’s website, the Kingston Police Department was allocated $43.48 million of a total municipal budget of $400M, or about 10.9%. In fact, a review of published budgets confirms that at no time in at least the last 5 years was the Kingston Police budget less than 10% of the overall city budget.

Some might say that an understatement of 1% isn’t a big deal. But 1% of the city’s budget amounts to roughly $4 million dollars this year. This all boils down to the fact that the Kingston Police receive upwards of 10% more from the city than what the head of their union is publicly claiming. This isn’t even factoring in the increased private funding that police departments are receiving.

Gough further claims that municipal social services in Kingston “are funded at just over 15% of the total municipal budget.” We’d love to see how he got to these numbers! The published budget for Housing and Social Services for 2020 is $17.25M. This is just 4.3% of the city budget, which is less than a third of the $60M that Gough claims. If you follow Gough’s claims further, Housing and Social Services would be receiving over 150% of the funding that the police receive, when in reality Housing and Social Services receives less than 40% of the police. The trend over the last 5 years is only making matters worse; the budget for Housing and Social Services has steadily decreased while the Police Services budget has increased by 15%.

The significant discrepancies in Gough’s numbers touch on one of the issues at the heart of movements to defund police — that essential social services are chronically underfunded. Instead of funding non-police initiatives that help residents, and in turn help to prevent crime, this underfunding actually leads to more police intervention in the long run. Yet despite his budget misrepresentations, Gough seems to acknowledge this point by stating “We need adequate community services and resources to work alongside our police to ensure those who are in vulnerable circumstances get effective assistance and support.”

As reported in the The Kingston Whig-Standard on July 8, Mayor Paterson made a similar acknowledgement in reference to the forced eviction of Belle Park residents: “When we sit around this table, we rarely work with ideal solutions. We work with what is the best that we can do with the resources that we have available.”

This sentiment is echoed by police departments and politicians in other major Canadian cities, along with the caveat that they just don’t want the funding to be redirected from the police. Well then, where should that funding come from? Increased taxes? Instead, sympathetic city councillors look to redirect funds from the single largest budget item of most Canadian municipalities — police departments.

Better supporting our residents that are in the greatest need (especially during a global pandemic) should be the clear priority over an already bloated police budget, but that’s certainly not the only reason to consider defunding. Gough euphemistically referred to the systemic racism in policing by acknowledging the “movement for change and social justice.” Although our city doesn’t face the kind of police brutality that is driving the broader defund movement, there is clear evidence that the Kingston Police view and treat Black and Indigenous members of our community very differently. As the conversation around defunding our police continues, this is the next aspect that needs to be “clearly defined and deliberated.”

Please visit the Katarokwi / Kingston page of Defund.ca to learn more and easily send your opinion to our city council.

Note from the Authors: This article was originally written with the hopes of being published in the Kingston Whig Standard, publisher of Gough’s op-ed. After contacting the Whig Standard multiple times and being stonewalled, the authors have chosen Medium as venue for self-publication. We hope that our local journalists will consider the ramifications of prioritizing the voices of police in the conversation around defunding, while simultaneously neglecting community input in that conversation.”

Signed, Defund Police YGK

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