Defunding Toronto Police means budget cuts, not dismantling: councillors

Protesters rally Wednesday, June 3, 2020, in Phoenix, demanding the Phoenix City Council defund the Phoenix Police Department. The protest is a result of the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers on May 25. (AP Photo/Matt York)

Defunding Toronto Police Services means cutting the budget, not disbanding it altogether, say councillors leading the effort. 

Ward 12's Josh Matlow and Ward 13's Kristyn Wong-Tam have brought forward motions to be discussed at its next city council meetings later this month, that would include a 10 per cent reduction in the Toronto Police Services budget, which is currently just over $1 billion. 

The councillors are also looking to amend the Police Services Act so that the city could have oversight to approve or disapprove specific items in budget estimates. 

Despite the basic implication of the Defund the Police slogan in protests in the United States and Canada following the death of George Floyd, Matlow says this is not about dismantling the force. 

"That's not an honest discussion," he said. "Let's really focus in on how do we rebalance the largest, single line item that we have in our entire budget, so that we're actually getting results in a way that addresses both dealing with crime, but also dealing with the roots of the issues that we have in our society."

Matlow and Wong-Tam's attempt come a day after municipal politicians in Minneapolis announced they were moving to disband their police department in the wake of Floyd's May 25th killing in that city. 

Disbanding has happened before, such as in Camden, New Jersey in 2012 and Compton California shifting its policying to Los Angeles County. 

The $100 million taken out of the police budget would go towards housing, child care, youth programs, anti-racism education, the motion says. 

Attempts to decrease the police budget have happened before including efforts by deputy mayor and councillor Michael Thompson several years ago, with a previous promise for a reduction of $50 million. 

"They came back and said we can't do it because they found other reasons," he said. 

But other legislative steps would have to be taken Thompson says, because if the Toronto Police Services Board didn't like the cut, they could appeal to the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

"That commission can overturn council's decision," he said.

But Matlow says there's momentum now with the movement and it's time for council to listen. 

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said last week that supports would have to be in place before there's a reduction in staff. 

"We need other agencies to help offload those responsibilities of helping the at-risk, of helping the high-risk, then we can start talking about the reduction," he said. "But until then, it would be naive to reduce police officers who right now, when you look at the numbers vs. the calls, we're not near where we need to be as a community. 

With files from Associated Press