Increasing police budget is a missed opportunity
Last Monday when the Toronto Police Service Board met to discuss the 2023 budget, the seven rookie councillors released a statement that cut to the core, echoing what many of the groups said in their presentations. The release lamented city government prioritizing law enforcement rather than addressing the root causes of crime and violence: poverty; discrimination; lack of opportunities; underinvestment; inequality; lack of affordable housing, and the need for mental health support.
It’s astonishing that in this day and age that such a lament was needed when study after study, dating back many decades ago, were saying the same thing in many countries around the world. And yet in 2023, it comes as a revelation, as something needed to be said.
The Police Budget discussion comes at a time when there is an uptick in violence in the city. No doubt, 2022 was one of those exceptional years when violent crimes demanded our attention. But given that the police received an additional $50 million to bring the 2023 budget to $1.16 billion when most other social support organizations are starved of money, speaks to a political mindset that seeks to bludgeon violence into submission. This puts Toronto into the august company of countries like the Philippines and Columbia, which tried to murder their way into ending violence. The last time we heard, the violence in those countries rose sharply.
A look at how the $50 million will be spent is instructive: the highlights are $18.5 million to give raises to law enforcement officials and the hiring of 200 additional uniform officers, including 162 response officers. Sounds a little bit like closing the barn when the horse has already bolted.
All this when public services aimed at providing employment, housing, child care and mental health support are chronically underfunded.
A measure of the mentality that drives the city councillors who sit on the Police Services Board, and who voted unanimously for the budget increase, mirror the 20 percent of the groups who spoke at the public meeting; they were described as “either business owners or represented business commissions.” Meanwhile, the majority of the speakers talked about the need to protect the vulnerable and who need social support; they were studiously ignored by board.
The violent crimes that seem to be the excuse for the police budget increase are not the ones that clearly put the public at risk. It’s the random attacks on the streets, subways and buses, assaults and deaths due to drug overdoses and those who suffer from addictions, that are the worry of the average Torontonian. All these are almost always attributable to people who are underserved, underemployed or unemployed, and have mental issues. The violence that emerge from such circumstances cannot be reduced by police action but by the sensible deployment of social capital.
The $50 million police budget windfall is a missed opportunity to improve the lives of people.
Adding more police uniforms to solve social problems has never worked and never will; just ask the long-suffering people of the Philipines and Colombia.