Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

The city of Toronto has a police budget problem

Police chief, Mark Saunders, attends a Toronto Police Services Board meeting at the Toronto Police Service headquarters on College Street.
Police chief, Mark Saunders, attends a Toronto Police Services Board meeting at the Toronto Police Service headquarters on College Street.

With the Toronto Police Service receiving the green light last week for yet another budget increase — they’re set to receive an extra $27 million, pending council approval — it’s time once again to point out that the cost of policing in this city is totally out of control.

The numbers are absurd.

According to City of Toronto figures, the average Toronto household paid $658.57 towards the police this year. That’s the highest single line item on the property tax bill by a country mile.

It’s 64 per cent more than the amount going to the TTC. It’s six times more than the amount going to employment and social services.

It’s a giant pile of money, in other words. But even more alarming is the speed in which that pile has been growing.

I recently put together a nerdy spreadsheet, comparing the City of Toronto’s budget from the year 2000 with the budget passed earlier this year. I looked only at what the city terms the “net budget” — the stuff funded by property taxes.

Here’s what I found: In Toronto’s recent history, only two city services have put real upward pressure on your property taxes.

The other is the police.

Remove those two huge costs from the equation and the city’s net budget has increased by just 22 per cent since 2000. The police budget has gone up by 78 per cent in that time.

Over the last few years, we have started to see more politicians talk about pushing back against this runaway growth. “We can’t continue to see significant increases in the police budget indefinitely,” Mayor John Tory told reporters after the police board meeting.

But the trouble with talk is that it’s cheap. Every attempt so far to wrangle the police budget has followed the same script. Politicians talk about the need to find efficiencies. The police counter with the fact that about 90 per cent of their budget is labour costs, so real savings will mean cutting the number of officers.

It’s a game of chicken. And so far the politicians have been the ones to blink.

It’s a tired pattern. More than ever before, Toronto now needs leaders who will acknowledge the possibility that the city can get by with fewer police officers — and who will admit that some of the money going to policing would be better spent if it went to other services.

Change is possible. We got word recently that the city has a consultant report detailing potential savings to the police budget. Conveniently, the report wasn’t publicized before this year’s budget was passed by the police services board.

Next year there won’t be any excuses.

Matt Elliott lives and writes in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @GraphicMatt

This post was originally published at on 2015-11-16T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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