Toronto

Police budget held at $1B for second year but TPS could cut more, critics say

The Toronto Police Services Board voted Thursday to accept the police budget request for 2018 of just over $1 billion — an amount identical to what the service asked for this year. But increases could be coming in the next few years and critics say the service could do more to cut costs.

Budget may increase as transformation costs mount, Toronto Police Service warns

Toronto Police hope the next generation 'connected' officer will spend more time out in the field and less time at divisional stations. Meanwhile, critics says there is no need to deploy two officers per cruiser. (Martin Trainor/CBC)

The Toronto Police Services Board voted Thursday to accept the police budget request for 2018 of just over $1 billion — an amount identical to what the service asked for this year. But increases could be coming in the next few years and critics say the service could do more to cut costs.

Ringing in at $1.005 billion, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) budget reflects a plan to transform what officers do with a focus on providing only the core services for less.

Tony Veneziano, the TPS chief accounting officer, says the service will take a number of measures to focus what police do more narrowly.

"We are looking at the core services we are providing and getting out of the businesses like school crossing guards and life guards and other programs, which are not part of our core responsibilities and be better handled by others," said Veneziano.

But bigger changes are coming as recommendations from the Transformational Task Force start being implemented. The goal is to shave $100 million from the police budget over three years.

"We are looking at changing the way we do business, processes, restructuring with the intent of providing the same or a higher level of service in partnership with the community — at a good price," said Veneziano.

The service will also look into outsourcing parking enforcement and court services programs next.

Disbanding TAVIS, the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, and passing on transit patrols to the TTC has not led to any savings, but did mean those officers could be redeployed to other frontline services.

Also, instead of each division maintaining its own Criminal Investigations Bureau, they will be centralized.

This year's budget also puts into action the recommendations of the Transformational Task Force, including closing some police divisional stations and moving to a district model to better reflect the city's neighbourhoods.  

Also, mobile technology will mean a so-called connected officer, who would no longer have to go back to a station to do paperwork, could remain in the field for longer periods at a time.

Veneziano said by far the largest portion of the police budget, almost 90 per cent, is made up of salaries and benefits.

While the last collective agreement increased the budget by $37.6 million, a moratorium on hiring and promotions imposed back in 2016 has reduced salaries by $24 million.

Because of retirements, TPS estimates it has lost as many as 230 uniform officers due to retirements and resignations and will end up having to hire 80 new recruits in the spring to address that.

After the transformation is complete, the service redevelopment strategy could see 305 fewer uniformed officers.

But John Sewell of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition says more could be done to shed labour costs.

He says the requirement that there be two officers in a cruiser between 4 p.m. and 4 a.m. should be removed, resulting in immediate savings.

"Two officer cars do not provide a greater level of safety then one officer. In most cases you do not need two officers to respond to a call," said Sewell.

"It's a waste of money, it's a waste of resources. Other police services do not require two officers to a car."

But the police budget is likely to start rising again after 2018.

As the cost of the transformation ramps up, there could be increases in the budgetary request to the city as capital costs like body cameras and mobile technology come on stream.

After back-to-back budgets with no increases, costs are projected to rise 3.2 per cent in 2019 and 2.5 per cent in 2020, but Veneziano hopes provincial funding for modernization helps offset those costs.

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