Toronto police chief goes to city hall to defend request for $50M budget hike

Incoming Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw waves after taking the oath of office during a police change of command ceremony last month. He defended a proposed hike to the service's 2023 budget Friday in front of a city council committee. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Incoming Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw waves after taking the oath of office during a police change of command ceremony last month. He defended a proposed hike to the service's 2023 budget Friday in front of a city council committee. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Toronto's top cop was on the hot seat at city hall Friday, defending a request for nearly $50 million in new funding for the 2023 police services budget.

Chief Myron Demkiw told councillors on the city's budget committee that 162 of the proposed 200 new officers the service aims to hire would be devoted to cutting response times for the highest priority service calls. The service has a six-minute standard to respond to those calls. It currently takes police an average of 20 minutes to get to them.

"We are asking for an investment in our ability to deliver our core services, which is being able to come to people when they call, being able to get through to people when they need police services," Demkiw said.

The proposed hike would bring the city's police budget to more than $1.1 billion The full police spending package will come to council with the rest of the city budget at a meeting on Feb. 14 for approval.

The proposed increase of $48.3 million would see more than 80 per cent of the new hires sent to "priority response units," with the remaining to be placed in "major case management" and neighbourhood community policing. Some $18.5 million will go toward wage increases under collective agreements alone.

But under questioning from city councillors Vince Crisanti and Lily Cheng at the meeting, Demkiw could not say what impact the new hires would have on response times or if they'd bring them down.

"This is very explicitly why I say it's a multi-year process for us right now," he said. "We need to focus all our attention on getting the resources we need to put them into the front line so we can evaluate exactly that," he said.

Crisanti, who is on the police services board, said he believed response times would "improve slightly." But he received no specific commitment from the chief.

"To give a hard estimate at this point, I can't give you, because it is a long-term project for us," Demkiw told the committee. He said the service will regularly evaluate its progress to cut priority call response times.

Demkiw said the Toronto Police Services Board set a goal of a six-minute response time to priority calls in 1995 and the service has not hit that standard.

The service is working with the board to examine other cities and their response times to high priority calls. That could lead to the city establishing a new response time standard, Demkiw added.

"We certainly know the goal that we're achieving now is not the goal residents expect," Demkiw said.

Mark Bochsler/CBC
Mark Bochsler/CBC

Coun. Chris Moise said it was "problematic" that Demkiw could not provide a specific figure to illustrate what the new hires will cut call response times down to.

But Moise said he's also concerned that police are stretched too thin because they're not assigned in the right places.

"I think we need to do a deep dive as to where existing officers are now," he said.

"Are they behind the desk, or are they in the school boards or elsewhere?" he said. "If you're everywhere, can you do the job effectively?"

Coun. Gord Perks said Toronto police should be asked to do less, and those resources should be spent in places that get better results.

"When we have an overdose call, when we have a mental health crisis, when we have a family dispute, there are better people for those calls who will get better outcomes for less money than if we're sending police," he said.

The proposed police budget increase includes 90 more special constables to "support front-line delivery," a city news release says, and 20 more 911 operators to improve service and response times. About $2 million of the new funding will go toward youth and families in anti-violence programming.

The proposal comes amid an apparent increase in violence across Toronto and on the city's transit system that Mayor John Tory said last week has caused "significant anxiety" for residents.

Tory has said he supports giving the police an increase because there is a need to address public safety concerns.

"These are investments which, in my best judgment, we must make now," Tory said last week when he announced the police budget proposal.