City hall battle brewing over billion-dollar police budget
TORONTO –The Toronto police’s proposed billion-dollar operating budget could get a rough ride at city hall this week, and police brass are already pushing back.
As some city councillors are weighing ideas to cut back the proposed budget, Chief Mark Saunders and police board chair Andy Pringle sent city councillors a letter attempting to “put some facts on the table” to stymie criticism of the controversial 2016 budget and justify increases that would push it over the billion-dollar mark for the first time.
The letter points out that both the mayor’s executive committee and Toronto Police Services Board have already approved a $2.7-million budget increase, adding that more than 90 per cent of the costs are related to salary and other employment costs “that the TPS has no real control over.”
However, it also argues that greater funding is needed to combat growing criminal threats, including a recent spike in shootings and stabbings in the city.
“We have seen an increase in violent crime in recent months and are also dealing with an ever-changing and increasing level of cybercrime, victimization and national security threats,” it says.
The billion-dollar budget has proved contentious at city hall, particularly after a scathing report from consulting firm KPMG, followed by now-retired deputy chief Peter Sloly’s candid criticism of the TPS’ “unfocused” spending and policing model.
Councillor Shelley Carroll, who sits on the Police Services Board, acknowledged that the budget needs some trimming, but only after careful analysis of the KPMG report and recommendations from a recently appointed civilian task force.
She says finding savings “takes a methodology” that should be put into practice this year, then reflected in next year’s budget.
“An arbitrary, unallocated cut of $20 million without any explanation right now isn’t any way to go about that.”
Carroll said “there’s some politicking going on” at city hall ahead of Wednesday’s planned budget discussion, and is concerned some councillors are taking aim at the budget simply for public support.
“The popularity for defending anything the police want is not there anymore,” she said. “So people are looking at what makes a very convenient whipping post.”
Councillor Gord Perks says the letter didn’t change his opinion on budget reduction, and argues that any proposed cuts would a long time coming.
“This isn’t last-minute,” he told Global News. “We’ve been having the conversation for years, (the police) just haven’t been listening.”
Perks says that there are “a lot of conversations taking place between councillors” on how to tackle the budget, but that there’s no one dollar amount in play at this time.
Councillor Glen De Baeremaeker said the police “have to learn to do their fair share” when it comes to budgetary responsibility.
“We have to send a message to the police department which we love: We’ve been telling you for almost 10 years, ‘please reduce your budget or freeze your budget,’ and they say ‘well thank you,’ and for the last 10 years they keep coming with increases,” he said. “It is a challenge, it has to be addressed. How that’s gonna happen we’re not sure yet but I guess we’ll find out in the next couple of days.”
With files from Peter Kim.
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