The police budget is one of Toronto’s biggest expenses. Here’s what you need to know about it
Few financial issues in Toronto have received as much attention in recent years as the amount of money the city spends on policing.
Since the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020, calls to cut more than $1 billion in funding to the Toronto Police Service (TPS) have become a central part of the city’s annual budget debate. .
The last city council, led by Mayor John Tory, twice rejected those calls, voting instead to maintain or increase the amount of money going to the TPS despite efforts by some councilors to force a reduction.
As Toronto voters head to the polls on October 24, the question is on the minds of many. And with the city facing an $857 million budget shortfall, police spending will continue to be at the heart of that debate.
How big is the Toronto police budget?
For a number of years, policing expenditures have consistently been the largest expense in the city’s annual operating budget, although this year it has been supplanted by the Toronto Transit Commission.
At $1.1 billion, the police budget represents 7.4% of the city’s total $15 billion operating budget for 2022, or 23.7% of the portion directly funded by property taxes. It was up $24.8 million, or 2.3%, from 2021.
In other Canadian cities, police expenditures represent 11% of the total operating budget in Montreal in 2022, 21% in Vancouver, 17.5% in Calgary, 9.3% in Ottawa and approximately 18% in Hamilton.
In its presentation of the 2022 budget, the TPS noted that the police budget has declined as a percentage of the portion of the city budget funded by taxpayers’ money over the past 10 years, from 26% in 2011 to 23% in 2021, and that this year’s increase was lower than the 2021 inflation rate of 4.4%.
How is the money spent?
According to the 2022 GST Budget Request, 90% of funds budgeted for Toronto Police operations in 2022 are for salaries, benefits, overtime and other compensation-related expenses for the approximately 4,988 uniformed officers and 2,400 members of the service’s civilian staff.
TPS said the budget increase would allow the service to focus on, among other things, community policing, the Vision Zero traffic safety program, mental health training and hate crime prevention and investigation.
The force said it would also reintroduce an investigative team to tackle serious crime trends and strengthen community relations by continuing to implement police reform.
While TPS has provided a line-by-line breakdown of its budget online, critics say it doesn’t include enough detail for the public to gauge how much money is being spent.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto, told CBC the public has a right to know more about how police are deploying their resources.
« How much of their time and our money is going to drug law enforcement, gun and gang policing versus community policing efforts? » he said.
« We don’t have a good idea of what the police do with the money we give them…and, more importantly, what the results of that policing are. »
Should the police be defunded and discharged?
Groups like Black Lives Matter argue that much of the money currently going to police would be better spent on community initiatives.
They argue that too many people from marginalized communities are hurt by police interactions and that officers are ill-equipped to provide traffic services, prevent violent crime and respond to calls about mental health, homelessness and drug overdoses. dope.
The deaths of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, Ejaz Choudry and D’Andre Campbell highlight what can go wrong when police respond to people in mental health crisis, and an extensive Toronto police report this summer showed that blacks, aboriginals and other diverse groups are disproportionately affected by use of force and strip searches by officers. These are just some of the latest incidents that have shaken trust between the police and the communities they serve.
On Monday, a group of about 20 activists representing a coalition of community groups staged a protest outside a debate featuring five Toronto mayoral candidates, calling on them to pull funding from the police if they were elected.
Desmond Cole, journalist, activist, author and prominent voice in Toronto’s black community, said what they advocate does not mean unsafe communities.
Cole said that means taking public resources currently earmarked for policing and punishment and redirecting them to prevention initiatives that focus on the root causes of violence, crime and poverty, including housing, education, mental health and other supports.
« We don’t need the billion dollar police budget if we take care of each other, » Cole said.
John Sewell, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, said allowing community agencies, not the police, to respond to mental health calls and those involving homeless people and youth would cost less and produce better results. .
« We don’t need heavily armed officers to respond to these calls, » Sewell said.
The city is running a three-year Toronto Community Crisis Service (TCCS) pilot project where mobile teams of crisis workers respond to select mental health calls in four areas of the city. But Sewell said initiatives like these need to be accelerated.
Jon Reid, president of the Toronto Police Association, the union representing officers, said calls for defunding the police are « short-sighted » and the vast majority of police interactions with the public are resolved « to the satisfaction of all » without the use of force.
Reid argued that the TPS needs more funding, not less, because the service is understaffed and its officers are overworked.
According to the TPS, the service had 568 fewer uniformed officers and 160 more civilian employees last year than in 2010. At the same time, police have had to serve a larger population per officer, homicides and violence army have increased and response times are getting longer. longer.
“If we were to reduce the number of police officers even further, it would be dangerous, in my humble opinion, for the communities as a whole. [and] dangerous for our officers,” Reid said.
Where are the mayoral candidates?
Shortly after Monday’s municipal election, TPS will submit its budget request for 2023, and the next mayor and council will be responsible for accepting, modifying or rejecting it.
A large increase could be hard for some to swallow for some councilors depending on whether or not the city has closed the $857 million budget gap this year.
During Monday’s debate, mayoral candidate Chloe Brown echoed the sentiment of funding advocates.
« It’s not just about taking money out of policing. It’s about moving it into mental health care so we can get people off the streets and into supported communities, reducing the cost of hospitalization and incarceration, » Brown said.
Gil Penalosa’s platform proposes disbanding the mounted TPS unit and instead using the $5.9 million to fund Vision Zero projects.
In a statement to CBC Toronto, Penalosa said his approach to the police budget would be to start with a « zero budget », assess what is needed and only fund what is justified.
“Police currently have many additional responsibilities that they are not trained for, are not suited for and frankly do not want on their plate. I want to work with the police to find better solutions to these areas of work,” says the press release. .
As an example, Penalosa said it would expand the TCCS pilot.
Sarah Climenhaga said she wants to make the budget process more transparent and supports improved policing reforms developed in consultation with frontline officers and residents.
“I want a city that is safe, where marginalized and racialized communities are respected, and where force is not misused in encounters involving the police. I am not confident that police funding will achieve this result, » she said in a statement.
Tory has made it clear that he will not cut police spending.
“We have kept the increase at 1.7% in the fastest growing city in North America,” Tory said during Monday’s debate, referring to the average annual increase in the police budget. during his eight years as mayor.
« We’ve managed to fund neighborhood policing and a host of other police modernizations and reforms while keeping the budget down. And I think that’s the way to do it. »