Toronto police chief Mark Saunders will ask the civilian police board today for a $30-million increase to the force’s 2019 operating budget, money he says is necessary in part to fund the hiring of 300 new officers.
If granted, the three-per-cent increase would bring the budget over $1 billion for the first time since 2016, after two years where operational costs saw a zero-per-cent increase, according to a report sent to the board last week detailing the budget increase.
The funding request comes amid ongoing collective bargaining between the Toronto Police Association and the police board, after the previous contract expired on Dec. 31. Salaries account for the majority of the budget, an anticipated $758.6 million — up $6.8 million from the previous budget — although the actual amount is not yet determined.
Saunders’s ask also comes at the three-year mark for the service’s transformational task force, its large-scale effort to reduce costs and increase public trust. The initiative has seen a hiring freeze, greater emphasis on “civilianization” and the downloading of some non-emergency responsibilities to the city.
But the budget report states that while savings have been found, other factors have created a need for further spending, including a workload increase of more than 10 per cent “based on ratio of calls per officer” over the last few years, and the ever-shifting policing landscape.
That includes increases in certain types of calls, according to the report, such as those involving a person in crisis — up 16.1 per cent from 2016 to 2018 — and those involving an overdose, which have surged 37.3 per cent during the same period.
There has also been an increase in some key major crime categories, the report says, including auto theft, break and enters and murder; 2018 saw 96 homicides, a city record that represents a 48-per-cent increase over 2017’s 65 slayings.
At the same time, uniform staffing levels have decreased by nine per cent over the last few years, according to the report, with 295 officers leaving Toronto police last year. An estimated 250 officers are expected to leave this year.
The budget request “has been prepared with the objective of keeping the city safe, balancing this goal with the need to fund current public safety activities and deal with the changing nature of crime (e.g., cyber, national security), while transitioning to a modernized service delivery model that embraces partnerships and puts communities at its core,” Saunders writes in the report.
In total, the service wants to hire more than 300 uniformed officers, 200 civilians, 122 special constables and 186 part-time retirees.
Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and policing. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis