In June 2020, following a round of demonstrations in the streets of Montreal, Mayor Valérie Plante said she would be open to revisiting how the city's police force is funded.
"This is a big, big conversation," Plante told reporters at the time. "I think, at this point, there are a lot of good ideas coming."
But the municipal budget put forward a few months later offered little in the way of change.
In fact, Plante's budget included a $15-million increase in funding for the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM).
The police operating budget in 2021 was $679 million, for 11 per cent of the city's total (combined with the fire department, public security accounted for 18 per cent). Social housing, by comparison, accounted for three per cent.
Where your money goes
So, where does all this money go? And where do the candidates stand on the idea of redistributing funds from police?
The bulk of the SPVM's budget goes, quite simply, toward paying the salaries of police officers. In 2021, $548 million was set aside for that purpose, up from $535 million a year earlier.
The SPVM had 4,802 officers in 2020, according to its latest annual report. Under the SPVM's collective agreement, a constable with six years experience earns $82,521.
La Presse reported earlier this month the city's police chief, Sylvain Caron, gets $252,000 a year, which is more than Plante's $196,000.
Philippe Pichet, who was suspended 2017 and resigned as police chief a year later, was still receiving $280,000 in 2020.
The salaries of civilian workers — including, for instance, crossing guards and office administrators — make up another $107 million.
Together, salaries at the SPVM make up $655 million — the vast majority of the budget.
Salaries make up growing portion of SPVM budget
This is no surprise, said Massimiliano Mulone, a professor of criminology at the Université de Montréal and an expert in police practices. Salaries are far and away the largest expense at police forces across Canada, he said.
That means any major overhaul of the budget would be difficult, given that police officers are unionized and cannot easily be fired.
"It's very difficult to cut," Mulone said in an interview.
Reallocating funds from the police would likely be a "long process," Mulone said, involving hiring freezes and buyouts.
In addition to being a challenge from a practical standpoint, Mulone said cutting the police budget would also be "very costly" politically, especially after a recent spike in shootings.
"It would take a lot of courage," he said.
New York City is among the jurisdictions that made headlines for cutting its police budget in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2020, the city claimed it had slashed $1 billion from its $6-billion operating budget.
But a closer look revealed the actual number was nowhere close to that amount, and many of the "cuts" were merely cosmetic changes, where expenses were shifted from one city department to another.
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Rémi Boivin, also a criminology professor at Université de Montréal, said if Montreal did cut the police budget then the SPVM would likely end up cutting young officers who have the least seniority, and do the bulk of the patrolling.
"It would be complex," he said.
Despite the challenges, Jessica Quijano, the co-ordinator of the Native Women's Shelter in Montreal, would like to see the next mayor get creative and make changes to the way police operate.
"There's definitely a lack of political will and not listening to the voice of Montrealers," she said, pointing to a pre-budgetary survey wherein 73 per cent of those surveyed called for a cut in the police budget.
Quijano said the movement won't end with the municipal election campaign, regardless of the outcome.
The two leading mayoral candidates, Plante and Denis Coderre, have both said they would not cut the police budget.
Coderre, leader of Ensemble Montréal and mayor from 2013-2017, has tried to make public security a key issue in the election, saying at one point Montreal was no longer a safe city. He has said he would increase patrols and introduce body cameras if given another mandate.
Plante has also promised to bring in body cameras, and said she would set aside $110 million for public security across all boroughs.
Balarama Holness, running for mayor with Mouvement Montréal, has said he would reallocate money from police to social and community services.
That would include freezing new SPVM projects, such as a $57-million gun range earmarked for 2020-22.