Tuesday, February 16, 2016
Will Toronto councillors slash police budget?
Mayor John Tory and Police Chief Mark Saunders are taking the threat so seriously that Saunders made the unusual step of visiting some city councillors to make his case Tuesday on the eve of council’s debate on the city’s overall $10 billion operating budget.
Saunders, promoted from deputy chief last year, faces frustration over long-escalating police costs amid a long-term drop in violent crime.
Some councillors are talking about giving the police up to $25 million less than the budget committee and Tory’s executive recommended. Those committees want to bump police spending 2.45 per cent.
“Council has two roles with police — choosing police services board members and setting the budget every year,” said Councillor Joe Mihevc, who called the police chief’s lobbying “totally inappropriate.”
“We need to send a signal to the police that they are not exempt from the fiscal pressures we are experiencing as a city. Salaries, budgets, staff complement, paid duty — they can’t win every fight. This is council’s shot at forcing the police to reform.”
Three sources said Councillor Michael Thompson, the economic development chair and a member of Tory’s executive, has consulted colleagues about putting to a vote a significant cut to the police budget, leaving Saunders to allocate the shortfall. Thompson did not return calls Tuesday.
Councillor Janet Davis said there are multiple discussions about how to make Tory’s proposed budget more sustainable and the police budget is one of them.
“I’d have to see the motion,” calling for a cut, she said, but added that she wants to find $3.5 million to fund 350 subsidized child care spaces, and other money to help build skateboard parks.
Saunders, approached after leaving the office of Councillor Gary Crawford, the budget chief, and visiting others, refused to answer questions. He referred a reporter to police communications which, at press time, had not responded.
In a letter emailed to councillors Friday by Saunders and Andy Pringle, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, and obtained by the Star, they say they are aware that “questions are being raised.”
They note that about 90 per cent of the planned increase relates to negotiated salary hikes approved by council with Tory’s blessing last year.
They also cite a very recent upswing in violent crime, although there is no evidence it is a long-term trend or related to police spending.
“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,” the letter states.
They also note there is a newly formed task force charged with recommending reforms to modernize the Toronto police service and contain costs. Tory has pledged the task force will quickly find ways to implement sweeping changes in a KPMG consultant’s report.
Tory spokeswoman Amanda Galbraith urged councillors to not attack the police budget.
“You cannot contain police costs with arbitrary cuts — it’s irresponsible and ineffective,” she said in a statement. “This task force will methodically examine (police) operations and both the mayor and Chief Saunders are committed to real action in response to their recommendations.”
Letter from Toronto Police Services Board
Councillor John Campbell, known as a fiscal conservative, met with Saunders on Tuesday after receiving a call Friday. He liked what he heard.
“My personal view is that this is a chief who understands what he needs to do,” Campbell said. “He’s been in the job nine months and he needs some time to implement savings and efficiencies.”
Saunders told him, Campbell said, that he understands where civilians can be moved into roles now done by higher-paid officers, and “seemed open” to the idea of reducing the number of police stations.
City council starts budget deliberations Wednesday morning. The final vote could be as late as Friday.
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