Now is the time to discuss city’s massive police budget

February 26, 2010

Harvey G. Simmons

http://www.thestar.com/Opinion/article/771685

{{GA_Article.Images.Alttext$}} PATRICK CORRIGAN/TORONTO STAR

As the candidates for mayor of Toronto jostle for position, each of them has suggestions for dealing with the city’s budget deficit: outsource Toronto Hydro, says Rocco Rossi; get the province to kick in more money, says Joe Pantalone; do business in a different way, says Giorgio Mammoliti; freeze hiring for all but essential services, says George Smitherman.

But none of the candidates has dared mention the elephant in the room – the Toronto police budget that stands at nearly $1 billion per year for operating expenses. The police now consume more of Toronto’s operating budget than the fire service, Emergency Medical Services and public health combined.

Even worse, how many Torontonians know, when they howl in frustration at yet another hike in property taxes, that a greater percentage of these dollars – 24 per cent – goes to the police than to the TTC, public health, children’s services and Emergency Medical Services combined?

And yet, on the political front there is dead silence.

It’s no wonder. The Toronto police enjoy enormous popularity with the public, they have a powerful and combative union behind them, a supportive media and politicians who, even if they know that police costs have to be brought under control, are not willing to risk their political futures by calling for a halt.

But the truth is that there is no relation between numbers of police officers, police expenditures and the crime rate. Whatever the police may say or the public may believe, studies show that the crime rate seems to rise or fall according to a complex series of factors, such as the shape of the economy, wages, incarceration rates or changes in the market for illegal drugs.

Spending more money on the police, hiring more officers or linking crime to the availability of abortion (the “freakonomics” school argues that the rise in the abortion rate in the U.S. contributed to a reduction in crime) does not explain the crime rate.

In other words, the Toronto Police Service really has no good grounds for arguing that more money and more police officers will help in the fight against crime. Yet the role of the police in society continues to expand and the demands on our tax dollars mount as they take on activities previously reserved for other professions, such as social work.

Recently, in a move prompted by the Jordan Manners murder in a Toronto high school and by a few violent incidents near schools, the police put 36 officers in Toronto schools and 12 in the Catholic school system.

Ostensibly these officers play a public safety role, but in its recently published 2010 list of priorities the Toronto Police Service now wants to develop “a prevention and education initiative, in partnership with school boards, relating to child and youth victimization in the areas of bullying and cyber-bullying.”

But do we really need armed, uniformed police officers in schools to teach children not to be bullies? Is this not one example of what Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee calls “a mismatch between what local policing actually does and what it is supposed to do”?

There is only one effective solution to the problem of the police budget. Freeze it. Tell the police that enough is enough: we have enough officers and they have enough money. Tell the police we don’t want yet more of our property taxes to go to the police. Tell the Toronto Police Service there will be a freeze on hiring and a freeze on the budget and that in the foreseeable future it, along with the police services board, will have to decide how its existing funds are best spent.

This will have all kinds of beneficial effects. It will force the police to decide exactly what is essential to policing in Toronto and what is not; whether, for example, the police want to spend their limited funds on lecturing schoolchildren on bullying, or putting more officers on the street, or in anti-gang activities, or something else. It will force the police to look for savings from within their own budget rather than draining even more tax dollars from other services where needs may be greater.

And it will call attention to the fact that throwing more money at the police and hiring police officers is not an effective way to reduce crime or use public money. In fact, years ago Britain’s Margaret Thatcher slashed the police budget and the result was a slimmer but more efficient and effective police force.

But this is election year in Toronto and all signs indicate that none of the current candidates for mayor will have the courage to tackle the really tough problem of out-of-control police expenditures.

Harvey G. Simmons is a member of the executive of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and professor emeritus, York University. hsimmons@yorku.ca

3 thoughts on “Now is the time to discuss city’s massive police budget

  1. votejohnrichardson Post author

    The following editorial appeared in the Star on March 23, 2010:

    “$100,000 police officers

    With 90 per cent of Toronto’s $888 million police budget tied up in wages and benefits, it is imperative that officers and civilian staff are used as cost-effectively as possible. So it is disconcerting to discover that 1,329 of the Toronto Police Service’s 7,500 employees earned in excess of $100,000 last year, many of them due to overtime.

    The six-figure club includes many constables on the traffic beat, which requires them to make frequent court appearances. And under the police union contract, officers who attend court as witnesses during a scheduled day off are entitled to a minimum of four hours’ pay at time-and-a-half even if their appearances take just 10 minutes.

    In fairness, $100,000 isn’t want it used to be. Unless there is a change in the $100,000 threshold to account for inflation, it’s only a matter of time before most public-sector workers make the annual list. But police representation on the list seems to be growing faster than the average. In 2004, just 250 Toronto police were members of the $100,000-plus club. That means an increase of more than fivefold in five years, whereas the increase for the whole public sector has been less than fourfold.

    Police officials say overtime is “scrutinized very closely,” but it is fair to ask if that scrutiny is yielding tangible results.

    As the annual police budget nears $ billion, Chief Bill Blair and the police services board need to make cost savings a top priority.”

    Reply
  2. votejohnrichardson Post author

    Biggest piece of T.O. budget is for police: Granatstein

    $888.1 million — about 24% of the city taxes you pay go to the people who keep it safe

    By ROB GRANATSTEIN, Toronto Sun

    Last Updated: June 20, 2010 1:07am

    http://www.torontosun.com/comment/columnists/rob_granatstein/2010/06/18/14444711.html

    When this year’s budget came out at City Hall, the biggest number in the $9.2-billion total that was paid completely out of property tax dollars, was for the Toronto Police.

    At $888.1 million, about 24% of the taxes you pay the city go to the people who are hired to keep it safe.

    With a projected $33 million increase (or 3.9%) over the 2009 budget, it would take about a 1.5% property tax increase to pay for new police spending alone.

    “These increases just can’t work” long-term, said city budget chief Shelley Carroll recently.

    So it’s telling that among the major contenders running for mayor, policing has barely been mentioned.

    Thus, everything must be hunky-dory, right?

    After Mayor David Miller was elected, the chief of police at the time, Julian Fantino, was replaced, although Miller has always said he had nothing to do with it.

    What has happened is that the gong show that used to be Toronto Police Services Board meetings (starting long before Fantino became chief), has quieted down to become one of the most boring meetings on the political agenda.

    The current chief, Bill Blair, has served his first term, and for the first time in modern Toronto, had his contract renewed.

    The mayor’s office considers the state of policing and its now much calmer and less controversial administration, two of the issues addressed during Miller’s watch.

    While the city may not feel safe to many — and the only true perception of safety is how people individually feel — the crime rate is falling.

    The reality is, Toronto is a big city, so there are problems. There is crime. Murder. Gangs. There are neighbourhoods suffering and there are some truly unsafe communities for residents either forced to call them home, or doing so by choice.

    But overall, relative to its size and comparable to other major cities, Toronto is safe.

    Generally, a night out downtown can be enjoyed without looking over your shoulder every minute. Stopping for a red at a street light isn’t frightening because of who might be lurking, waiting to pounce.

    Overall, Toronto is a good place to live.

    That said, there are some ongoing administrative issues that are undeniable.

    For example, it’s difficult to adjust the level of police service in Toronto. Based on cost-sharing agreements with the province, police manpower requirements and other issues, the budget for salaries is hard to fine tune.

    Overtime costs have been cut somewhat in the past decade, and the city is always trying to slice more.

    But to significantly cut the budget, reductions would largely have to come from the civilian side of the force – an area where cuts have been made before.

    The problem remains that with a budget that is growing by at least 3.3% a year, and now nearing $900 million, the force has to find ways to keep a lid on its own inflationary costs.

    Then there’s the issue of how the force acts operationally.

    Should a mayoral candidate, for example, call for more “community policing”? What does that actually mean, since shouldn’t all policing be in our community?

    Should there be less community policing? Fewer police barbecues and basketball games, more takedowns? Is that a serious argument? What about the police officers we now have in 50 schools?

    If you’re a political candidate, the last thing you want to be seen doing is telling the police how to do their jobs.

    Where the new mayor will have his or her chance to influence the direction of the force is through appointments to the police services board.

    For example, Coun. Pam McConnell has been on the board for more than six years. Coun. Adam Vaughan is a recent appointee. Coun. Frank Di Giorgio is there, too.

    The next mayor could move the board more to the centre or centre-right by shaking up the city’s appointees.

    These appointees, in turn, decide who becomes the chief and thus influence who become the deputy chiefs as well.

    rob.granatstein@sunmedia.ca Twitter: robedits

    Reply
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