Mayor Tory lays out "detasking" police budget strategy, will include cuts

John Tory

Toronto Mayor John Tory says his recommendations for police reform will include cuts to the Toronto Police Service's budget, but he does not endorse the position two councillors have made for an initial 10 per cent reduction. 

"There's no doubt in my mind at all it will lead to reductions in the budget and will lead to substantial amounts of money that can be invested in other areas of social service and investment in people," he said Thursday, announcing his motion that will come before council next week. 

They top item includes the city and TPS working on the "creation of non-police led response to calls which do not involve weapons or violence, such as those involving individuals experiencing mental health crises and where a police response is not necessary." 

And while he wants the likely reductions in the TPS budget that would make this possible, he doesn't want to put a projected number on it. 

His proposal is backed by Deputy Mayor Michael Thompson and councillor Shelley Carroll, whereas councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Josh Matlow are seeking support for the 10 per cent reduction in 2021, reallocated to social services. 

Tory said he prefers Thompson's term of "detasking" the police rather than defunding. 

"I think you'll find there are successful examples elsewhere in the world that we could follow and modify for Toronto purposes that would have a great many of the 32,000 calls that are dealt with involving people in crisis looked after by someone other than the police," he said.  

For Thompson - who has made attempts at police budgeting transparency and cuts before - now is the time for change. 

"We have to have a structure and it has to be strategic," Thompson said. "If we came out and simply said here's a number, whatever that number is, the police service board themselves can appeal that to OCPC (Ontario Civilian Police Commission), they can appeal that to the province, the province can implement changes and say no, we're not supportive of the changes that you've recommended." 

But Tory's recommendations also include provincial action. 

For example, part of the request is for council to request the province overhaul the Police Services Act's Equipment and Use of Force regulations to emphasize de-escation, as well as reinstate other reforms. 

Carroll also spoke about other measures that can be taken to give the city more control over police budgets, such as allowing the city's auditor-general to be involved in provincial talks. 

Premier Doug Ford said he's open to the ideas. 

"Sure, I'd be more than happy to sit down and talk to the mayor and talk to other mayors," he said about the use of force regulations specifically, adding he's willing to discuss loosening provincial powers over municipal police budgets. 

However, Ford repeated his adamant objection to cutting budgets. 

"Just to cut them by what, $100 million I'm hearing? I just don't understand, I do not believe cutting police budgets, simple as that," he said. 

Ford acknowledged there has be improvement in how mental health crisis calls are addressed, but said he'd rather see more funding for police training. 

"It's a massive, massive error," he said about cuts. "I do not want to see front-line police officers cut." 

Ford's nephew, Toronto councillor Michael Ford sided with the mayor, saying defunding the police is a "reckless, irresponsible & dangerous proposal."

"We need a constructive conversation on the role of policing in our city. The Mayor’s motion achieves that," he said on Twitter. 

Matlow also responded on social media, calling Cllr. Ford's words "dangerous rhetoric" and while he's supportive of certain parts of Tory's recommendations, others don't go far enough. 

"It’s time to begin defunding the massive police budget & reinvest into community supports/policing alternatives to make our neighbourhoods safer. Let’s finally listen to what so many BIPOC are saying," he said. 

Carroll worried the 10 per cent figure would be too much of a focus, with not enough on the overall changes she's seeking. 

"You're going to need a report card if you will, the report card can't be a number, because the conversation can't be about a number and nothing else," she said. "That's all we would be talking about for the next three months and that can't be what the conversation is about, it just can't." 

But even the 10 per cent isn't nearly enough, says Black Lives Matter Toronto. 

During the organization's Juneteenth demonstration last week, it laid out its demands, including a 50 per cent reduction, with funds being redirected to housing, food security programs, transit, public health and anti-violence initiatives. 

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack dismissed the 10 per cent proposal as "nonsense," but did say he's open to the overall idea of how police officers are dispatched. 

"If there's a better way to do it, then we need to have those discussions," he said. "And we need to do that based on data and evidence."

"Do we get it right all the time? Nobody's saying we do, however to look at us as a group of people and demonize us and say okay, we're just going to take money away because you're not behaving, is ridiculous."