Statement on Police Funding

Dear Friends,

At its June 29 meeting, Council will be discussing two proposals to change the way we do policing in our City and to fund a variety of programs aimed at combatting racism, inequality and other societal problems that form the roots of crime. Despite the similarities in these two plans, discussion has focused on a single major difference. The first motion, by Councillor Josh Matlow, calls for a 10% “defunding” of the Toronto Police Service while the other, from Mayor John Tory, doesn’t specify the amount of the police budget reduction.

Proponents of the Matlow motion say anything other than defunding is like all of the other hollow promises for reform that have come and gone without leaving a mark.  Proponents of the Tory motion say that arbitrary confrontational cuts will make it more difficult to get the co-operation needed to transform the police.

As detailed in last week’s newsletter, I see merit in both sides of this argument and understand why a long history of tragic and unjust events, as recent as today, would prompt many to demand immediate definitive action.  I strongly agree that a significant amount of funding should be redirected from traditional forms of policing to civilian first responders and to improving social services.

This year, 10% may not be possible; but over the next few years, once other measures are in place to give Council greater control over the police budget, it’s likely that more than 10% would be a reasonable target.

The police budget doesn’t actually get voted on by Council until February. By then, I’m hoping we’ll have a much better handle on what is possible in 2021. And, at that time, if I don’t see real progress, I may see no alternative but to support an arbitrary 10%.

For next week’s vote, I’m inclined to give the Mayor’s approach a try, especially if it is strengthened somewhat by amendments, including one from me giving Toronto’s Auditor General the power to fully examine police finances and systemic issues.  I cannot overstate how essential I think it is to have truly independent and transparent oversight over such a powerful part of our municipal structure.

I believe that defunding or re-allocation, whichever term you prefer, is more likely to lead to lasting, transformational change, if it is done when we have all of the facts, figures and options before us.

– John