Toronto police chief gunning for $1B budget from city

There could be some tough talk on Thursday when Chief Mark Saunders appears before the Toronto Police Services Board looking for a budget increase.

Chief Mark Saunders expected to ask for more money from board looking for 'radical change'

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)

There could be some tough talk on Thursday when Chief Mark Saunders appears before the Toronto Police Services Board to ask for a 2016 budget increase.

Last month, the board asked the chief of police to come back to them with savings and he is expected to outline $9 million dollars worth of cuts.

But Saunders, who replaced Bill Blair as chief of police earlier this year, is expected to request a $27 million hike, as well.

Speaking to reporters last week, Saunders said he's going into Thursday's meeting with taxpayers in mind, saying he'll ask for "what we need to keep our city safe.

"We won't be pulling any rabbits out of any hats. The numbers are whatever the numbers are that they give me and I'll do the best with whatever I've got," he said.

It's just the latest conflict between a police service that has asked the city for repeated budget hikes over the past several years, and a police services board that has been pushing for lower costs and a different way of doing things when it comes to policing in Toronto.

Speaking on CBC's Metro Morning earlier this week, the former chair of the board, Alok Mukherjee, said the Toronto police service lacks "the change mindset" required to bring in reforms needed to curtail rising salary costs. 

The request from Saunders would push next year's police budget above the $1 billion mark — about $40 million more than Mayor John Tory and the rest of the police services board wants to pay. 

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

'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."

Sonacki's former advisor says savings can be found

Brian Kelsey is a public policy consultant and a former budget advisor to the mayor of Winnipeg. He also managed David Soknacki's mayoral campaign, which called for sizeable cuts to the police budget.

Kelsey said the police have had time to curtail budget costs.

"It's a little tiresome to see 12 years of different civilian oversight bodies telling the police service to look at its own operations and then the police service comes back and says 'Well no, everything's perfect except we need more,'" he said in an interview on Metro Morning Thursday.

Kelsey said the police could see significant savings by:

  • Adjusting shifts so the city no longer pays for 28 hours of policing in every 24 hour day. He said a four-platoon shift structure — instead of the five-platoon model in use now — would save about $25 million a year "without any significant impact on police coverage or police services."

  • Moving "light-duty" officers into retirement. Kelsey said officers who can't work on the street for physical or disciplinary reasons should be given incentives to retire, which he said would save between $20 and $25 million a year.