Toronto’s police board unanimously approved a $ 1.1 billion operating budget for city police in 2022, an increase of nearly $ 25 million despite protests from some citizens who urged cutting spending, or a less more time to review the numbers.

After a lengthy budget meeting on Tuesday, the civil board voted in favor of what Toronto Police Chief James Ramer called a “fiscally responsible budget,” which covers most of the pay increases required by the collective bargaining agreement. . Ramer said the additional spending will help reallocate resources to initiatives aimed at traffic safety, reducing gun violence, investigating hate crimes and increasing the number of community officers.

The budget also includes spending for an estimated 12 to 15 employees that Ramer said were necessary to address a core recommendation of a review of the force’s handling of the serial killer Bruce McArthur that identified Toronto police as non-compliant. with provincial legislation on key records and investigations. maintenance areas.

In the past two years, the seven-member board has faced unprecedented pressure to cut spending amid ongoing calls to defund the police and redistribute resources to other agencies, including social services. Moments before voting on the budget increase, Mayor John Tory, who sits on the board, said he would not accept a “binary” view that the change in surveillance can only come about through drastic budget cuts. .

Tory said the 2022 budget strikes “the right balance” between “taking tasks away” from police, taking away some of the work done by police officers, and making investments that will keep people safe.

“I will not compromise the security of this city, and the constant implementation of reforms, and the way that we do the surveillance and the investments that are necessary to achieve that … especially to appease the people who … have very little facts. and numbers to back that up, ”Tory said of advocates for a 50 percent reduction in police spending.

In formal councils, various members of the public urged the board not to approve the spending increase, with some expressing concern about the amount of time the public was given to examine the budget request.

“We are nearing the two-year mark in this pandemic, and surveillance is by no means the top priority for our city,” said Abaigeal Clark, who said the city was facing bigger problems, citing problems in the system. of refuge. and a recent night when ambulances were not available.

Multiple individuals and community organizations, including the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition and the Ontario Bar Association, called the board for what they described as insufficient time to review major public expenditures. The board informed the public about its special budget meeting on January 4 and asked anyone who wanted to give input to do so before 9 am on January 10, an “impossible deadline,” Citizen Doris Fulton said. .

Some speakers implored the board to delay the vote.

“This is really puzzling to me, because what it seems, the perspective of this, is that the board does not want to have a public opinion on the budget to publish something so complicated with so much data and not give us enough time.” Fulton said.

“At the request of the City Council, the Toronto Police Services Board has committed to greater transparency in its budget and this rushed process does not meet that standard,” wrote Rob Howarth, executive director of Toronto Neighborhood Centers, in a written delegation.

Ryan Teschner, executive director of the Toronto police board, said in an email that the board’s bylaws allow a special meeting, such as Tuesday’s budget meeting, to be called 24 hours in advance, but in this case “A full week was foreseen.” given, similar to what is provided for regular board meetings ”.

“The Board and the Service are always committed to transparency, accountability and meaningful consultation with Toronto communities. Our budget process is no exception, ”said Teschner.

During the meeting, Toronto Police Administrative Director Tony Veneziano stated that the 2023 budget process will start earlier, allowing more time for public input.

The police budget has yet to be approved by the Toronto city council, a process scheduled to begin next month.

Wendy Gillis is a Toronto-based reporter covering crime and police for the Star. Contact her by email at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @wendygillis

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