Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

We need to talk about the absurd cost of police in Toronto

Insignia of a senior officer of the Toronto Police Service.
Insignia of a senior officer of the Toronto Police Service.

Coun. Michael Thompson stood up and delivered the most important speech of his political life midway through last week’s debate on the 2016 city budget.

“We are at a crossroads, in my view,” he explained, “where either this council decides they are concerned about the cost of policing or, in fact, they decide that they’re not concerned.”

As proof that he is, in fact, very concerned about the cost of the city’s police, the Scarborough councillor introduced a bunch of motions that sought to reduce the police budget. His most ambitious move would have cut nearly $25 million from the police service’s request, holding the line on funding from last year.

Thompson’s efforts weren’t successful, of course — all his cutback motions fell on 12-28 votes — but, still, let’s take a moment to praise the man for trying.

First, let’s give Thompson credit for sparking an honest-to-God debate about the police budget in the council chamber. For years, any talk of cutting the ballooning police budget was done with caution, if at all.

During the 2014 municipal election, multiple candidates told me the cost of policing was obviously a huge issue but expressed reluctance to challenge the budget publicly.

But, thanks to Thompson and a handful of other like-minded councillors, that taboo has been broken.

That’s progress. Tiny progress — almost microscopic, really — but progress.

Thompson also deserves kudos for shining a light on how much more city hall could do if it were able to break free of this cycle. His motion called for new money requested by the police to instead go toward a range of programs and services: parks, childcare subsidies, transit improvements and more.

In all those cases, it would be possible to quantify outcomes. It’s easy to measure the impact of investing in program to make buses more reliable or create 350 childcare subsidies.

It’s harder to measure the value of throwing more money on top of a police budget that already totals $1 billion.

Going forward, figuring out that value, or lack thereof, has to be a priority. It makes no sense for Tory and city council to cry poor in labour negotiations with its unions — as they did last week — and in talks with the provincial and federal governments while continuing to approve escalating police budget requests.

Instead, more should follow Thompson’s lead and simply say no.

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

This post was originally published at on 2016-02-22T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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