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Instead of a bigger police budget, Toronto community groups demand spending on shelters, transit, services

Toronto police say they need an additional $20 million this year to effectively maintain community safety. A coalition of nine advocacy groups is arguing more police spending doesn't equal more safety. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
Toronto police say they need an additional $20 million this year to effectively maintain community safety. A coalition of nine advocacy groups is arguing more police spending doesn't equal more safety. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

As Toronto police ask for a $20 million budget increase this year, a number of community advocacy groups are calling on the city spend that money elsewhere.

The Care Not Cops coalition gathered at city hall Tuesday morning, days ahead of Mayor Olivia Chow's draft budget for the upcoming fiscal year, to pressure councillors to put the extra money police have requested into social safety nets, city services and infrastructure.

"We really want to push the city to put resources toward those things that are actually going to help the communities," said Lorraine Lam, an organizer with the Shelter and Housing Justice Network, one of nine groups that make up Care Not Cops.

Other groups include the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, TTC Riders, Policing-Free Schools and Jane-Finch Action Against Poverty. Their demands range from investment in the Scarborough busway to creating 24/7 warming centres and expanding the shelter system.

Lam says a stronger social safety net and better city services is what Toronto needs to be safer — not more police spending.

"We live at a time when our cities, social infrastructure, and even physical infrastructure is crumbling," Lam said. "So it's pretty clear that we need money from the city to pour into those services so that people are well and thriving."

Lorraine Lam is an organizer with Shelter and Housing Justice Network, one of nine groups involved with the "care not cops" coalition.
Lorraine Lam is an organizer with Shelter and Housing Justice Network, one of nine groups involved with the "care not cops" coalition.

Lorraine Lam is an organizer with Shelter and Housing Justice Network, one of nine groups involved with the Care Not Cops coalition. (Ethan Lang/CBC)

Police say more money 'desperately needed'

In submissions to both the Toronto Police Services Board and the city's budget committee, top police brass have said a 1.7 per cent increase to the $1.2-billion budget is necessary for staffing numbers, better emergency response times and to ensure adequate service that will keep the city safe as the population grows.

Speaking to CBC Radio's Metro Morning Tuesday, Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw said the additional funding is "desperately needed" to hire more officers and restore the force's ability to deliver core services, which has been "compromised significantly" in the last decade.

Demkiw said the average response time for "priority one" emergency calls has grown to 22 minutes, and that in 60 per cent of those cases there is no unit immediately available to attend.

"Torontonians don't need a lesson in patience from their Toronto Police Service when they actually need us to attend in an emergency. And right now our ability to do that is challenged," he said.

Like the advocacy coalition, TPS had mounted its own campaign to sell its argument to politicians and the public. Using the hashtag #SupportYourTPS, police have used official news releases and official social media accounts to argue that anything less than what they've asked for will amount to a cut in service.

A recent TPS instagram post with the #SupportYourTPS. As the police budget is debated for the next fiscal year, TPS has started an online campaign to argue its case for more money.
A recent TPS instagram post with the #SupportYourTPS. As the police budget is debated for the next fiscal year, TPS has started an online campaign to argue its case for more money.

A recent Toronto police Instagram post uses the hashtag #SupportYourTPS. As the police budget is debated for the next fiscal year, TPS has started an online campaign to make its case for more funding. (Instagram/TPS)

The force's request for increased funding was unanimously accepted by members of the police services board in December and recommended to the mayor by the city's budget committee.

But the mayor and council will ultimately decide the budget for the new fiscal year, and city staff are recommending an increase of $7.4 million — $12.6 million less than what police say they need.

Care Not Cops has its own detailed list of demands, including a freeze on any increase to the police budget. In addition to 24/7 warming centres and the expansion of the city's shelter system, the group wants more accountability for how TPS spends its money and a multi-million dollar divestment to be redirected to the Toronto Community Crisis Service.

Study finds more police funds don't make cities safer

The coalition says giving more money to the police doesn't make the city safer, and points to research that they say backs up that claim.

A recent University of Toronto-led study found no consistent relation between police funding and crime rates across 20 Canadian municipalities, including Hamilton and Toronto. Lead author Mélanie Seabrook said the key takeaway for legislators is to give community needs and priorities more consideration when setting budgets.

Anna Willats of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition said that one of TPS's major budgetary concerns — lowering emergency response wait times — could be addressed in part by divesting from police.

"The way to address the issue is to stop having the police respond to calls they're really not equipped to respond to properly," she said. Unhoused people in distress or people experiencing mental health crises, she said, shouldn't have armed police officers responding to their situations.

Demkiw said TPS "has been and will continue to be incredibly committed" to working with community partners across the city to increase "alternative-service delivery" where it makes sense.

He also questioned the reliability of studies that suggest that police presence is unrelated to overall crime rates.

"As far as the impact of police presence on crime prevention, I am prepared to debate that any place, any time. But that's not what this budget is about," he said.

"This budget is about core-service delivery and getting to people when they need us the most."

The police budget is expected to be finalized later next month.