Toronto mayoralty candidate David Soknacki wants the city to take aim at what he calls an "unsustainable surge in costs" in the police budget, vowing to pare back police spending by $65 million a year.
"If we can fix the police budget, we can fix the city's budget," Soknacki said at a news conference Wednesday.
Socknacki said the city must take steps to curb the steady rise in policing costs and salaries, which he said are sapping money from other city services as crime declines. The police operating budget is $1.068 billion. About 89 per cent of that total goes toward salaries and benefits.
The talk of cost cutting coincided with news Wednesday about the severance package outgoing Police Chief Bill Blair will receive next April, amounting to a year’s salary or about $370,000.
“That's pretty steep to take home 350, plus, plus,” Toronto Mayor Rob Ford told reporters.
In terms of the budget, Soknacki said the savings can be achieved without a reduction in front-line police officers, but said the city needs to explore new approaches to staffing.
"Everything I'm proposing has been done safely in other cities," he said.
Soknacki said if he's elected mayor on Oct. 27, he will sit on the Police Services Board, the body that provides civilian oversight over Canada's largest municipal police force. He also called for a strategic review of policing, so the city can redefine what it expects from its police force.
Ford, meanwhile, said he “asked for efficiencies to be found -- not on front-line officers, obviously. Within the administration." He said that was where he and Blair “had a major problem.”
Some on the Police Services Board insisted there are savings that can be found elsewhere
“Every year we make an attempt to reduce the budget and whenever we try to do that we are told that 'If you reduce our budget you’re going to cut front-line officers,'” said Coun. Frances Nunziata, who sits on the board.
“We have some internal positions done by officers that I believe could be done by civilians,” she said.