Police Chief Mark Saunders says cutting the force’s swollen billion-dollar budget by $25 million would mean removing up to 400 front-line officers — a move that would jeopardize public safety.
“You’re looking at close to 400 officers,” Saunders said on Wednesday. “Take a look at today’s news. Take a look at today’s climate and do you think that under this existing model 400 people less would be a benefit to the city or a detriment to the city?”
“I don’t think that makes any sense. I don’t think the general public thinks that makes sense.”
Toronto councillors are currently battling over the swelling cost of policing the city.
Many city divisions had cuts to their budget this year, but not the police budget. The proposed budget was approved by executive committee to increase by almost 2.5 per cent, which pushes it to more than $1 billion for the first time ever.
There’s pressure from some councillors, including Michael Thompson, to reduce spending on police by one per cent or $25 million.
“One of the things we have learned over the years and over decades is that the police are unwilling to actually make the necessary changes, whether structurally to the organization or to the budget, unless they are forced to do that,” Thompson said.
“The fact of the matter is that we actually have a runaway budget…”
Thomson said he understood concerns about public safety being impacted, but added that measures had to be taken to rein in spending.
“I’m a resident here, we’re all residents here. We’re not trying to create a situation where criminals will run wild in the city. But what we do know is that we have to arrest the police budget. And quite frankly at this particular point in time, it’s my view that it’s out of control.”
In an unprecedented move, Chief Saunders made the rounds at City Hall on Tuesday talking to politicians about keeping the police budget as is.
Mayor John Tory wants the police budget trimmed, but prefers to take a slow and steady approach to doing it.
Tory said Wednesday that he’s against drastic cuts to front-line officers.
“I tend to think that keeping the city safe, making sure we have the number of police officers on the street that we need (is a good idea) at a time when violent crime…is a concern. Cyber crime is a concern. Threats to security in the city is a concern…So what I’m doing is an approach that is careful, that is responsible, that is very determined to make the budget different but isn’t a rash approach.”
Tory has put together a task force to find efficiencies on the police service.
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Deputy mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong also sides with the mayor.
“I think taking an axe like this and that type of cut throughout this process is a very dangerous and not a very well thought out strategy,” Minnan-Wong said.
The costs of policing make up the biggest part of the city’s $10-billion operating budget. Salaries make up for 90 per cent of the police budget, and cutting back on officers is politically sensitive.
A letter to councillors by Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle states: “We have seen an increase in violent crime in recent months.”
Toronto is not the only city struggling with the growing costs of policing. According to the Ontario Association of Police Services Board, over the last 15 years, police salary increases in the province have been more than double the rate of inflation.