Toronto Mayor John Tory is proposing to increase police funding by almost $50 million for 2023, boosting the service's total budget to more than $1.1 billion — but some advocates say the move won't make for a safer city.
The proposed increase of $48.3 million, pitched alongside chair of the budget committee Coun. Gary Crawford on Tuesday, would be used to hire 200 more Toronto Police Service officers, Tory says.
Over 80 per cent of the new hires will be sent to "priority response units," with the remaining to be placed in "major case management" and neighbourhood community policing.
"These are investments which, in my best judgment, we must make now," said Tory.
Some $18.5 million will go toward wage increases under collective agreements alone, a separate release from TPS says.
The move comes amid an apparent increase in violence across Toronto and on the city's transit system, that Tory says has caused "significant anxiety" for residents.
"We must do everything we can to address crime and to keep people safe," he said.
The proposal represents a 4.3 per cent increase to the police budget — almost three times more than the average increase during Tory's past two "less inflationary" terms, he said.
The plan will go to the Toronto Police Services Board for consideration and approval next week.
City already in the red
The proposed increase comes at a time when the city is already in the red. According to a letter sent by Tory to the federal and Ontario government in November, the city is heading into 2023 short by $1.489 billion due to COVID-19, inflation and the rising cost of fuel.
The budget, which is set to be considered by council in February, will include increases to things like policing, housing and transit, Tory says. Residents can expect a tax increase below the rate of inflation to help pay for it, he adds.
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 increase also includes around $12 million dollars toward the Toronto Community Crisis Service, which sees mental health experts instead of police respond to certain calls involving people in crisis. Tory says he intends to find more "effective ways" to support people in crisis.
New budget in line with re-election platform
During his re-election campaign, Tory said he'd continue to push back against efforts to defund the police. In a year-end interview with CBC Toronto last month, Tory signalled he would push for a bigger police budget, saying that a "fraying at the edges" of community safety makes the move necessary.
New Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said he too would ask city council to hike the service's budget. Response times for calls are not where they should be, he said when he was sworn-in in December.
Tory's proposed plan matches the net increase amount Toronto police requested for its 2023 operating budget, according to a separate release from Toronto police.
The service, which consulted with the public in November on its 2023 budget priorities, says participants believe greater resources are needed in 911 response and patrol, crime prevention, investigations and victim support.
Move means 'more peril' for vulnerable groups: advocate
Yet many have called for reduced funding for the service in recent years in response to police killings, particularly after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minn., in 2020.
The last city council rejected those calls twice, instead voting to maintain or increase the amount of money going to Toronto police. Last year, the $1.1 billion police budget made up around seven per cent of the city's total annual operating costs.
Those calls came into increaesed focus this past summer after a report from Toronto police found the service has disproportionately used force against Black, Indigenous and other diverse groups compared to their share of the population.
The proposed increase in funding will do the opposite of what its intended to do, advocate Desmond Cole says.
"An increase in policing on the streets of Toronto automatically means more peril — for homeless people, for Black and Indigenous people, for queer and trans people, for sex workers," said Cole.
"Nine years of him supporting police in this way hasn't increased safety in the city of Toronto, hasn't stopped violence in the city of Toronto," said Cole.
Cole said he's disappointed but not surprised the move, and that the money could have gone toward priority areas such as childcare, food insecurity and mental health supports.
Former mayor calls move 'very worrisome'
Coun. Gord Perks agrees, saying increased investments in mental health, harm reduction and paramedics can lead to an increase in safety and wellbeing at a much lower price tag.
"I'm very concerned that he continues to go down the path of investing the lion's share of the money in tools that are very expensive and don't work as well," said Perks.
Coun. Josh Matlow says spaces for at-risk youth, job training, trauma counselling, and eviction prevention can prevent crime, too.
"While the evidence is clear that investing in communities reduces crime and improves resiliency, there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that the number of officers or the amount we invest into police has any effect on crime," said Matlow in a statement.
Former mayor of Toronto John Sewell says he's worried Tory's plan will get pushed through even if a majority of councillors disagree with the plan. With the recent introduction of "strong mayor" powers, two thirds of council need to vote to override the mayor's proposed budget.
"This is very, very worrisome," said Sewell. "This is a no-win situation."