Toronto Police Service wants to increase police budget by more than $48 million

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Appeared in National Newswatch, February 9, 2023
Toronto Police Service wants to increase police budget by more than $48 million

The Toronto Police Services Board, which governs the Toronto Police Service, wants to increase the police budget by 4.3 per cent (or $48.3 million) to $1.17 billion and hire 200 more officers. City council plans to rule on the request, and set the city’s overall budget, on Feb. 14.

By any measure, this represents a substantial potential increase in police spending. Yet despite a small spike since 2015, crime rates in Ontario have declined over a 30-year period and today remain at historic lows. And among Ontario’s major cities, Toronto is essentially mid-ranked in terms of crime rates and crime severity. Yet among Ontario’s 30 largest municipalities, Toronto has the fourth-highest number of police officers (169 per 100,000 people), well above the 30-municipality average of 144.

At the same time, there are longstanding competing narratives that Toronto’s police force is either overstaffed or understaffed. According to the police union, the number of officers quitting due to burnout is at record highs and more are needed. Meanwhile, falling long-term crime rates and rising police budgets have sparked claims that Toronto is overpoliced.

This debate now occurs against a background of more complicated policing needs, issues of racism and calls for defunding, calls for greater investment in areas such as homelessness and mental health, and recent high-profile street crimes including violence on Toronto public transit. And in policing, as in many other public services from health to education, the demand for greater accountability increasingly means more time dedicated to administrative work.

So, does Toronto have too many or too few police officers?

To answer that question, we can estimate a statistical relationship between the determinants of crime and police resources, and use the results to estimate the predicted versus actual number of officers. Again, according to recent estimates, in 2021 (the latest year of available compatible data) Toronto had 169 officers per 100,000 population. But the statistical model predicts it should have 167. So according to estimates, Toronto Police Service staffing is very close to what it should be. The proposed increase of 200 additional officers would add about seven new officers per 100,000 Torontonians—but without accounting for police retirements. According to Statistics Canada, over the last few years about 9 per cent of Toronto police officers have been eligible to retire, which means as many as 500 per year might retire.

Subsequently, even if city council approves the request for more money and 200 more officers, the effective total complement of officers per 100,000 Torontonians will basically stay the same. However, a larger number of fresh new officers could conceivably result in more boots on the ground doing direct policing work. To further enhance effectiveness, force leadership could find ways to better deploy existing resources in more community-based policing initiatives. However, that in turn requires time savings from somewhere else. Here, the force should look to better use technology to reduce the burden of administrative work tied to incident reporting and case prosecutions.

Toronto City Council has a lot to consider before it makes a decision on the Police Services Board’s request for more money and officers later this month.

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