De-tasking police and restructuring community safety - Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah featured in discussion about police and public safety on The Agenda

October 6, 2020 by Sarah Tran

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah recently appeared on an episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin alongside former RCMP officer Chad Haggerty, London police chief Stephen Williams and staff lawyer at Black Legal Action Centre Fareeda Adam. They discussed the role of police in society, given recent events in the U.S. and Canada. In this conversation, Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah sheds light on his views regarding defunding the police, the consensus between police, community and political leadership, the oversight of the police in Ontario, and a re-imagined police service where weapons are not carried.

Highlighted in this discussion is the term "de-tasking the police" to emphasize the delegation of current police tasks towards more appropriate organizations and institutions, thus reducing the negative consequences of police engagement in unsuitable activities and reducing the police budget. Such a budget reduction, to Professor Owusu-Bempah, requires close examination of the situation to sensibly reduce funds without jeopardizing public safety. De-tasking the police may also help with mental health, homelessness and youth programming. Professor Owusu-Bempah calls for a drastic re-imagining of public safety and policing that places more emphasis on social institutions, civil society organizations, and citizens.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah provides commentary to public and governmental agencies, community organizations, and media outlets regarding topics of race, policing, and social justice. He is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, with teaching responsibilities at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) campus. His research focuses on the intersection of race, policing, and social justice.

We've included a transcript excerpt from Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah's discussion below. The complete episode, Rethinking Policing, can be found here.

Who Should Keep the Public Safe?
The Agenda with Steve Paikin

Steve Paikin: "Akwasi, maybe you could follow up. We talk about taking responsibilities away from police. On the other hand, I have heard the expression defund the police meaning the police are just not the best people to carry out this function and therefore we need to take that money, not to punish police, but to more appropriately spend it on others who can better perform those tasks. Help us understand what your understanding of all this means?"

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah: "I think we're hearing all of the things you said and more, and I particularly appreciate the term that one of my colleagues kind of lended to me, which is actually "De-tasking the police." what we've acknowledged is that the police are doing too much and that their budgets reflect that, and we want to take away some of those tasks, and importantly we know that when we have the police engaged in activities that they're not the best organization or institution to engage in, we have a number of negative consequences that might flow from that, one being the criminalization of people that might not otherwise be criminalized, so we can think about this in the context of homelessness, with respect to drug use, when we've got police in schools, but also of course in relation to the use of force as well. So I particularly like... I'm using the term in the work that I'm doing in the area, de-tasking the police, which recognizes that we're going to take some of the tasks away from the police, and that there will be a corresponding reduction in the police budget to go along with that. This isn't new. This has been acknowledged by the Canadian association of chiefs of police, this has been acknowledged by the Canadian government, and in other western nations long before the current conversations around defunding the police emerged as they have now."

Watch the full episode here...