A proposal to increase Toronto’s police budget by nearly $50-million was passed unanimously by the force’s board on Monday, despite outcry from critics who said the money would be better invested in underfunded community services.
The funding proposal was announced last week by Toronto Mayor John Tory, who said the hike would in part go toward the addition of about 200 officers as well as programming aimed at addressing youth violence following recent cases he’s called troubling.
A meeting of the police services board heard arguments from the head of the force as well as critics on Monday before voting on the proposal.
Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw said the $48.3-million increase would address requests for the force to improve its lagging response times, boost its presence in the downtown core, and build on its neighbourhood policing program.
“This budget represents an important step in our multiyear plan to create, reform and build. It will allow us to start to remedy the issues that matter to the people of Toronto,” he said.
But health-care workers, lawyers and community organizers levelled criticism against the proposal, arguing that the police force is a flawed and ineffective way to prevent crime that disproportionately targets Black, Indigenous and racialized people in the city.
Dr. Suzanne Shoush, a Black and Indigenous physician, told the board she was “astounded” by the proposal she said lacked evidence and would siphon much-needed dollars away from efforts to address the city’s affordability crisis.
“There is real harm in this proposal. Every dollar that the TPS takes is a dollar drained from our communities, our social supports and our families,” Shoush said.
“As a physician, I see every day that the safest communities are not the communities with the most police. They are the communities with the most resources.”
The funding proposal approved by the police board will now go before city council next month as part of Toronto’s overall budget.
It’s the first fiscal plan presented by Tory under new “strong mayor” powers granted to him by the province, which means he can veto council changes unless overridden by a two-thirds majority.
The hike in police funding represents a 4.3 per cent increase over the 2022 budget for the force, and would bring its total to just over $1.1 billion for 2023.
Demkiw defended it as a necessary boost, in part to cover wage increases. About $18.5 million would be allocated towards that, according to the chief’s report to the board.
Money would also be earmarked to hire 162 “priority response” officers, including 25 assigned to downtown core for a ‘strategic presence” and 20 emergency communication operators.
The budget increase, Demkiw said, was not to boost the police service for the sake of growth, but to address services that he said independent reviews and the community identified as priorities.
He cited a report delivered by the city’s auditor general in June 2022 that found police response time routinely fell short of targets, and statistics that show Toronto trails some other major North American cities in the number of police officers per capita.
“When core delivery metrics tell us that we can’t adequately meet the demand in a growing city, we have a responsibility to ask for the investment in resources,” he said.
The auditor general found in about 40 per cent of lower priority calls, such as well-being checks or disputes, the circumstances suggested an alternative non-police response may have been able to handle the call. But Demkiw said those alternative models “will take time” and in the meantime, police are “effectively the default service providers.”
Critics, meanwhile, frequently cited recent reports they say point to the devastating consequences of over-policing Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.
They referred to the findings of a 2020 Ontario Human Rights Commission report that found Black people in Toronto were 20 times more likely than white counterparts to be fatally shot by police, and a 2022 report from the police service itself that found Black people were more likely to have an officer point a gun at them – whether perceived as an unarmed or not – than white people in the same situation.
“You’re already killing too many people, you’re already harming and ruining, and traumatizing too many people while you ask for more,” said community advocate Desmond Cole. “Forget about an increase. You need to be defunded. You need to be abolished.”
The city saw several violent incidents – some fatal – in or near high schools as well as on public transit in 2022.
Parties who spoke against the budget increase admonished those who would use those high-profile incidents as an argument for more police.
“Police aren’t preventing crime, they’re showing up after the fact to take notes about the things that happened,” Huda Idrees, the founder and CEO of Dot Health, told the board.
Tory, who campaigned in the fall municipal election against calls to defund police, said last week the city “could not put off the investment” in the service after the force’s budget was held at roughly 1.7 per cent average annual increases over his previous eight years as mayor.
Executive directors of several business improvement associations in the core spoke in favour of the budget hike while citing concerns about property damage, theft and “aggressive and erratic behaviour.”