Ending over policing of Black and Indigenous residents, sending civilians to respond to homelessness, drug use and mental health crises and triaging 911 calls so that only serious ones merit a police response could lead to lower overall social costs and reduce Toronto police spending by 25 per cent, according to a new report.
The new report, from Black Lives Matter Toronto, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, YWCA, Family Services Toronto, Neighbourhood Legal Services and 17 other groups says taking an approach where separate services for drug use, mental health crises and homelessness are set up to replace the role of police could lead to better outcomes.
In Rethinking Community Safety, a way forward for Toronto, those groups argue a system where police are only called in extreme situations, could alleviate pressure on courts, emergency rooms in hospitals.
“More appropriate interventions are available—at a lower cost, with better outcomes—when we send support workers to address issues with vulnerable people instead of sending police,” the report states.
The report comes as the disparities in police treatment of racial minorities grows clearer, especially after two decades of government and press reporting on subjects such as carding, use of force and incarceration.
In Toronto, Black residents are involved in 29 per cent of Toronto police use of force incidents but make up less than 9 per cent of the city’s population, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) found earlier this year.
Black people in Toronto are nearly four times more likely than white people to be charged with a crime, the OHRC found, and if they are charged, they are nearly five times more likely to be charged with obstruction of justice than white people.
Recent statistics show that twice as many Black people in Canada are imprisoned compared with their share of the population, and five times as many Indigenous people are imprisoned versus their share of the population.
The report proposes setting up or growing existing civilian services to respond to most calls about homelessness, drug use and mental health crises.
“We send police to respond to a lot of situations where they are not the best trained people to address the situation,” Ginelle Skerritt of The Neighbourhood Group said Monday.
In homelessness, the report found police interact with the homeless in Toronto up to 360,000 times per year, issuing 16,000 tickets, most of which are never paid.
Street Health Kapri Rabin says the cost of law enforcement interacting with the homeless in Toronto costs taxpayers $100 million per year.
But they say reducing police involvement with the homeless and replacing it with civilian outreach, as has been done in major U.S. cities and Australia, could lead to more homeless people securing housing, fewer arrests, less jail time and fewer emergency room visits.
Toronto police respond to 30,000 mental health calls per year, and 40 per cent of the service’s Taser use involves subjects who have mental health issues.
The report says that replacing police with civilians trained to death with mental health crises could save city taxpayers by expanding existing services that connect with and temporarily house and support those suffering from mental health crises.
The groups behind the report also want a triage system employed to determine whether each 911 call actually warrants a police response.
In 2018, nearly 60 per cent of calls to 911 did not require a police response.
“The areas of activity outlined here provide an immediate opportunity to begin to move to models that better serve marginalized communities—real-locating resources to support vulnerable people, improve community safety, and produce better outcomes in the short and long term,” authors of the report wrote.
The cuts to police called for in the report represent $340 million of the total $1.209 billion police budget in Toronto this year.
A motion to reallocate 10 per cent of the police budget to alternative service providers was defeated at Toronto city council this year, with Mayor John Tory opposed.
Skerritt said the report was meant to give council a detailed blueprint on how to divert funds from police and into other services.
“What we’re hoping for is at least a plan to reallocate those resources,” she told reporters on Monday. “We’re saying redirect it so that it can be more effective.”
Tory introduced a package of reforms in the spring that entertained the idea of alternative responses to people suffering mental health crises.