Toronto police request $1.076 billion for 2021, a 0 per cent budget increase
Jan. 7, 2021
After months of unprecedented calls to defund police, the Toronto police service is requesting a flat-lined operating budget for 2021--but the bill remains north of $1 billion.
In a report to the police board released Wednesday, interim Toronto police chief James Ramer asks for a $1.076 billion operating budget, a zero per cent increase over 2020 --a year that saw fevered calls to reduce cop budgets amid an international reckoning over race and policing.
To avoid a budget increase, the service is absorbing $46 million in costs, including $17-million related to collective agreement requirements, resulting in a reduction of 50 officers and 90 civilian staff, the force said.
Last year, 89 per cent of the budget request went to the salaries and benefits of about 4,930 uniform officers and 2,490 civilian staff.
“This year, we’re committed to doing more without asking for more,” Ramer said in a statement Wednesday, which highlighted changes including an expansion of the force’s specialized mental health teams to run 24/7 and more investments in the neighbourhood officer program.
“This is a fiscally responsible budget that is responsive to police reform, the public safety needs of the community, as well as the unprecedented financial pressures” faced by Toronto amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramer wrote in his report to the board.
The proposed budget --to be debated at a special board meeting online next week--was met with both angered disappointment and tentative praise by some of those who’ve called for cuts in recent months.
Flat-lining the budget is a “demonstrative gesture --but it doesn’t do anything to respond to calls from the community” for a dramatic reduction in police spending, said Black Lives Matters Toronto member Syrus Marcus Ware.
Since June --when hundreds of protestors gathered outside Toronto headquarters and wrote “Defund the police” across College Street --Black Lives Matter has been calling for a 50 per cent reduction in police spending, Ware said.
“What we’re seeing here is 50 per cent too much,” said Ware, who noted the pandemic has underscored the need for more community and social resources.
“There’s an obvious place where that money can come from,” Ware said.
Amid protests over the police shootings of Black and Indigenous people in North America, Toronto city councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam moved a motion last summer to cut the 2021 police budget by at least 10 per cent --a move rejected by council.
On Wednesday, Matlow called the budget request a “welcome first step” and an acknowledgement that police spending does not have to increase each year.
“That being said, how we approach community safety has to change and will change,” Matlow said.
Matlow added that the $46 million being absorbed by the service is “not peanuts,” showing there’s room for cuts in the budget --not what he heard just a few months ago amid the “rhetoric” and pushback to his motion, he said.
In August, the Toronto police board passed dozens of recommendations in response to local demands for change, including the removal of police from certain kinds of calls. A report released on Monday and signed by nearly two dozen Toronto community groups called for a dramatic reduction in police spending, identifying calls regarding homelessness and mental health among those where police should no longer be first responders.
Toronto mayor John Tory, who sits on the Toronto police board, said this week that the board is working towards redirecting some calls currently handled by police, that this must be done “properly and carefully,” said Tory --and then the police budget can be reduced.
According to the Toronto police, new investments include expanding its mobile crisis intervention team --a specialized mental health team that includes a nurse --from 10 hours a day to running day and night, seven days a week.
The force also plans to grow its neighbourhood officer program, create a road safety team of 18 officers, and launch a “proof-of-concept” initiative that will place community crisis workers in the Toronto police 911 communication centre “to help divert calls to a community agency where police response is not required.”The Toronto police budget meeting is happening Jan. 13 at 9 a.m.