With the recent rise in shootings, the mobilizations against police violence and systemic racism, and the recent controversy surrounding Will Prosper, it is clear that the “police question” will be at the heart of the municipal elections in Montreal. As Denis Coderre has stated on various occasions, “people are afraid”, “a wake-up call is in order”, “public safety will be the number one issue of the next electoral campaign”.
Coderre thus presents himself as the candidate of “law and order”, wishing to increase the number of SPVM to make the city more “safe”. He fiercely accuses Valerie Plante to be nonchalant, “overwhelmed by events”, the latter preferring to protect the candidate for mayor of Montreal-North, whom he describes as a “mole”, “ardent protester of the work of the police in Montreal”, “True promoter of definancing and disarmament”. What is it really ?
Let us say at the outset that public security is a “complex question”, as Coderre himself recognizes, who claims to “adopt a global thought” with a ” agenda vigilance, both preventive and coercive ”. Coderre will rely on a simple (or rather simplistic) solution based on repression: more police officers, more weapons, more funding, with small portable cameras as a bonus. We are not attacking the causes of crime here, we are rather trying to contain the effects. As Michel Foucault noted, “the police are not there to bring order, but to govern the disorder”.
For her part, Valérie Plante will try to defend the good moves of her record, by focusing on a humanization of the police and a more dialogic approach based on empathy and inclusion. This second option, more complex to explain but tackling the root of the problems, is to rethink the police model. The goal is not to define the police massively, as Coderre insists. The official position of Projet Montréal adopted at its last convention is to “reform and reorient the financing of the SPVM, by focusing on local public security services, adapted to the needs of citizens and to community realities, and to improve the resources in prevention, mediation and social cohabitation, in particular by creating mixed intervention teams made up of specialized agents in each SPVM neighborhood station ”.
The question is not whether to refinance or define the policy, but to “redistribute” the resources to the communities most concerned, such as that of Montreal-North, which has suffered from major underfunding for several years. decades. When we listen to the statements of Valérie Plante and Will Prosper, the urgent thing to do is to “reinvest massively in the communities”.
The debate on public security, which Coderre tries to frame by the opposition “security against chaos”, should rather be posed in the following way: repression or redistribution? Is the response to violence more police, the militarization of law enforcement, control, profiling and punishment, or outreach services, more humane and better targeted interventions, programs for young people? in order to prevent delinquency, social and affordable housing to get out of the cycle of poverty, exclusion and marginality?
Once the need to reinvest in communities has been established to concretely improve the quality of life in disadvantaged neighborhoods, the question of funding arises: where do we find this money? At the municipal level, unfortunately, there are not a thousand options: either we beg the federal or provincial government, or we increase property taxes, or we reduce certain city services to reallocate funds elsewhere. The trick of the definancing strategy is to refinance the communities out of the police budget.
However, this measure is unpopular, especially with police services, who see it as a direct threat to their interests. Today we are seeing the outcry, attempts at destabilization and demonization, we are disclosing information to drive out the most influential figures of this movement, in order to protect the status quo. Police officers, increasingly accused of committing racial profiling, unnecessary killings and other shocking blunders, are trying to obscure their own crisis of legitimacy by shining the media spotlight on a scapegoat.
In view of this dynamic, the best strategy is to opt for the “happy medium” between two extreme positions: the radical definancing of the police on one side, and massive refinancing on the other, as proposed by Coderre. The best short-term solution would therefore be to freeze the SPVM’s budget, justified by more urgent social, economic and ecological needs, as the many crises now require massive investments. Raising the police budget when people are homeless, rent and property prices are skyrocketing, and young people lack the resources is simply irresponsible.
Thus, it is no longer good funding for the police that appears to be the reasonable solution; it is more the constant and unjustified increase in the budget of the SPVM (which increased from 400 million dollars to 680 million between 2000 and 2021), while we are facing a climate crisis, a housing crisis and of extreme inequalities, which appears unreasonable. The repressive public safety solution is problematic not only because the constant increase in police budgets has never stemmed the rise in crime, but also because it helps perpetuate the chronic underfunding of necessary public and community services. to prevent crime. Basically, the debate for the next election will be as follows: repression or redistribution? Armament or refinancing? More police or more social justice? Regression or social progress?