Policing in Toronto is expensive. According to city data, if you took an average property-tax bill of $2,598, the cops and their board would get a bigger slice of that pie than any other city agency: a $662.96 slice, to be exact. The TTC, in second place, gets about half that, and the library system just over $115. At a time when crime rates are falling across Canada, pundits and politicians are asking if it’s worth spending $1 billion annually on policing.
During his campaign, and in the early days of his administration, Rob Ford made the seemingly contradictory promises to hire 100 more cops and slash the police budget by 10 per cent. Finding the necessary savings proved impossible, partly because doing so would likely require laying off some officers. The Toronto Police Association, the union that represents the police, tends to push back against spending cuts, and even threatened legal action against the city in 2012 after talk of a budget freeze. If you want to get labelled soft on crime, reducing the police force is a good way to do it.
So it’ll come as no surprise that few mayoral candidates are speaking out about what should be a major campaign issue. Of the frontrunners, only David Soknacki has promised a review of police spending, while self-professed fiscal conservatives like John Tory and Karen Stintz have remained mum.
Candidates have also largely ignored the issue of paid-duty policing, where officers receive $68–$85 an hour to provide security at sporting events, on film sets, and the like. Paid duty is good work. So good, in fact, that a 2011 city audit found that officers had skipped out on actual work to do paid duty instead.
There is the argument that crime rates are falling because of increased police spending. But taking into consideration Toronto police’s use of force, their investigation of the mayor, and street checks, we have to ask: Can’t we at least talk about what we’re getting for $1 billion?