Toronto police budget increases to $1B for first time

For the first time in it's history, Toronto Police Services has a $1-billion budget. Mayor John Tory said these hikes cannot continue.

'We can’t afford to keep the cost going up,' Mayor John Tory says

Chief Mark Saunders was granted his request for budget increase of $27 million at a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board on Thursday. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

For the first time in its history, Toronto Police Services has a $1-billion budget. 

The Toronto Police Services Board voted unanimously on Thursday to approve Chief Mark Saunders's request for an increase of 2.76 per cent, or $27-million, to the 2016 Toronto Police Services budget, putting it above $1-billion for the first time.

"Police spending is out of control," John Sewell of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition told CBC News. "It's a crazy way to spend money," the former mayor of Toronto said.

In October, Toronto police presented an operating budget request of $1.015 billion, and the board asked Saunders to find more savings. He came back Thursday with a $1.006 billion-budget. That's still about $40 million more than Mayor John Tory and the rest of the police services board has said it wants to pay. 

Tory voted to pass the budget, but said annual increases are unsustainable. 

"We can't afford to keep the cost going up," he told reporters after the meeting. "We have to make some changes."

Saunders, who replaced Bill Blair as chief of police earlier this year, said the Toronto Police Service will look at cutting costs in the future by "leveraging technology" and offloading some of its workload.

"There is no silver bullet to this whole thing," he said Thursday. "Crime is different right now. We've got cyber issues, we've got national security issues, and we've got our day-to-day issues. Now we need to get other agencies involved to take ownership of some of the responsibilities."

Tory suggested the force may have to get rid of some of its 5,400 officers, even though about 300 have been cut in recent years. 

"The size of the police force has been reduced, so the question of whether it should reduced further is something we'll have to discuss," he said. 

The police service has asked the city for repeated budget hikes over the past several years, while the police services board has been pushing for lower costs and a different way of doing things when it comes to policing in Toronto.

Last year, the budget for the Toronto Police Service was $979 million. Most of the operating budget goes towards salaries and benefits

Since 2006, the Toronto Police Services budget has increased by $254 million. Of that, 92 per cent is from collective agreement increases.

'Radical changes'

Next month, the police services board will release a KPMG report on ways to dramatically reduce costs. It includes the idea of closing all 17 police division buildings and replacing them with storefront operations.

It also is said to recommend decreasing the size of platoons and shifting jobs currently carried out by police officers to civilian positions. 

Saunders says he is looking to transform the present model of policing but says he won't compromise on safety.

Speaking on Metro Morning this week, police services board member Shelley Carroll recognized the recommendations are challenging.

"There is no question that these are radical changes but we know they can be done."

With files from Mark Crawley


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