A former mayor is taking aim at Toronto's $1-billion police budget, calling it a "pot of gold" after not getting access to a line-by-line breakdown of how police are spending the money.
John Sewell, who served as mayor for two years and is now a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, requested a copy of this year's police budget but received only a five-page summary of the force's spending plans for 2016. After filing a freedom of information request for the budget information that would have been presented to the Toronto Police Services Board, he received the same short summary.
Toronto Mayor John Tory and Coun. Shelley Carroll, who both sit on the board and approved the $1.006-billion budget last November, said a line-by-line budget does exist. Both also said they would call for it to be made public.
Sewell said until the public can review how the Toronto Police Service is spending taxpayer dollars, there's no way to hold it accountable.
"Every other department in the city has a real budget. I call this the pot of gold," Sewell told CBC News.
In 2015, Sewell said police released a 750-page budget document. This year's summary budget, he said, was vague, stating only that police would spend $534 million on uniformed officers and $157 million for civilian salaries, among other line items.
"Where's the allocation? Let's see it," he said.
An email from Toronto Police's freedom of information section to Sewell said: "Our office was notified that a 2016 Operating Budget Report (similar to budget reports prepared in prior years) was not requested by the [Toronto Police Services Board] for 2016. Therefore, a 2016 Operating Budget report was not prepared."
The email went on to say the police force is considering creating an operating budget at his request.
Police spending needs to be 'cracked open,' councillor says
Tory said he has seen a line-by-line version of the budget that goes into detail on everything from uniforms to gas for police cruisers. Approving anything less, he said, wouldn't be responsible.
The mayor said he will "get to the bottom" of why the full budget wasn't released to Sewell, saying: "I generally opt for making more public rather than less."
Coun. Shelley Carroll said while she received a binder full of detailed budget information from Toronto police, it was still difficult to get answers on certain topics.
The board's budget subcommittee, she said, "focused on how many people and where are they going … and it was difficult."
Carroll said she believes the longstanding police culture within of not divulging information so as to not compromise investigative techniques has crept into the budget process as well.
"I think that's going to have to be cracked open," she said.
Carroll said she will call on police to make that budget information public, or at least provide it to councillors, as she doesn't believe there's any harm in sharing the information.
Public accountability issue
Both Sewell and Carroll said not releasing detailed budget information gets in the way of police accountability and reform.
Sewell said he wants to see real breakdowns of the number of officers by division and how they're being used. If there is such a breakdown, he said, it should have come out in his freedom of information request.
"If you don't have a real budget … you can't have accountability," he said.
Carroll said she welcomed Sewell's criticism, saying she didn't realize how little information the public could find about the police budget. If the police service is going to find efficiencies – something that has to happen in a city that has "hit the wall at a billion" — it should start by sharing information with the public about what's happening now, Carroll said.