Toronto police to request nearly $25M budget increase in 2022
Additional funds would be better spent on helping marginalized communities, critics say
The Toronto Police Service will ask next week for a nearly $25 million increase in its 2022 operating budget, but critics say the additional funds would be better spent on building communities.
According to an agenda for a Jan. 11 special virtual meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, the total operating net request is for $1.10 billion ($1.26 billion gross), an increase of $24.8 million, or 2.3 per cent above the approved budget for 2021.
In a recent news release, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer called the increase a "modest investment" needed to maintain services in a city that continues to see a rise in homicides and gun violence.
"As one of the fastest growing cities in North America, Toronto is changing rapidly and we need to be where Torontonians want us the most," Ramer said.
Ramer said the budget would allow the service to do more in key areas, mostly through the reallocation of existing resources. The "maintenance budget" would also allow the service to cover the financial impact of its collective agreement obligations in the midst of inflation, he said.
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Ramer noted the budget request for an increase comes after the service asked for a zero per cent increase in 2021 and reduced its staff by more than 400 members from 2010 to 2021.
"Our proposal is conscious of the City's priorities along with other pressures — like rising inflation and population growth — and balances them with the imperative of providing policing services that Torontonians want and deserve," Ramer said.
However, critics say the request for an increase comes after many calls in Toronto and across North America to defund and detask the police following the murder of George Floyd.
Rachel Xyminis-Chen, executive director of Keep6ix, a grassroots non-profit organization that works with marginalized individuals who have been impacted by the criminal justice system, said the additional funding could go instead toward any number of initiatives — including housing, mental health supports, overdose and harm reduction response, increased food security, to help marginalized communities.
"If there was additional funding that could be provided for grassroots organizations to be able to fulfil this work and be able to move forward, and provide supports we're hearing are needed from our communities, we'd be able to make much more of an impact," she said.
"It's no secret that there's a lack of trust especially when it comes to marginalized communities and the police."
In the news release, the police provide a line-by-line breakdown of the budget online, in response to requests for more transparency and accountability, but at least one expert said more information is needed.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said residents have a right to know how police will deploy resources.
"As of yet, we still don't actually know in a specific or precise manner, how those funds are being spent. How much of officer time, for example, is dedicated to responding to calls for service? How much officer time is dedicated to community policing?" he asked.
"As a social scientist and as a policing scholar, I want to know what the police are doing with their time and our money, and we still don't know that."
John Sewell, of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, said the budget is based on a business-as-usual model.
"Police will change nothing in how they operate or function in 2022, in spite of the many changes people have demanded since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020," Sewell said in a news release. He said the request "flies in the face of growing public support for decreasing the size of police budgets at all levels.".
Sewell criticized the Toronto Police Services Board for not releasing the budget earlier and noted that the board released four police budgets — operating, capital, parking and police service board budget — on Jan. 4. The board said comments from the public must be received by Jan. 10.
"The Board has deliberately set up a timetable to exclude the public from talking about how police spend public money," Sewell said.
Budget hike to focus on key areas, police say
In the agenda, police said 2.2 per cent, or $23.4 million, of the 2.3 per cent increase, would cover the financial impact of applying wage increases from the collective agreements with the Toronto Police Association and Senior Officers' Organization.
In the news release, Toronto police say the budget increase will allow the service to focus on the following areas:
- Growing the neighbourhood community officer program — which currently has 178 officers in 38 of the city's 158 neighbourhoods— by redeploying resources.
- Supporting Vision Zero — with a group of 18 officers dedicated to traffic law enforcement — to make roads safer.
- Expanding the number of police officers who receive enhanced mental health training to respond to people in crisis.
- Increasing resources dedicated to preventing and investigating hate crimes. Police said Toronto experienced a more than 50 per cent spike in reported hate crimes in 2020 — an increase that continued in 2021.
- Re-introducing a city wide dedicated investigative team to work with police services across Ontario to address emerging serious crime trends such as a significant increase in auto thefts.
- Strengthening relationships with the communities the police serve by continuing to implement police reform and recommendations from Judge Epstein's Missing and Missed Review to reduce victimization and save lives.
The Toronto Police Services Board will consider the proposed budget on Jan. 11 and the city's budget will go to council for final approval in February.
With files from Talia Ricci and Muriel Draaisma