TORONTO — Sweeping reforms of the country’s largest municipal police service are needed to address systemic racism and the concerns of disadvantaged communities, Toronto Mayor John Tory said on Thursday, although he made no direct call for cutting the police budget as activists have demanded.
Instead, Tory proposed various measures such as “detasking” officers, which could see some police calls handed to others to deal with. Such changes, he said, would result in better policing but also mean less money for the police service.
Calls for change stem from “real concerns” that current policing methods don’t work for the community at large, the mayor said.
“As a result of the changes proposed, I expect we will see an improvement in how community safety is provided to Torontonians, particularly to Indigenous, Black and marginalized communities,” Tory told council. “I am confident it will lead to a reduction in the Toronto police service budget.”
Budget cuts, he said, would be based on careful calculation and would allow for reinvesting in critical community and social services.
Activist calls for defunding police and putting the money into social and other community supports grew louder amid the furor sparked by the recent police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Incidents in which officers have resorted to violence against Black and Indigenous people have occurred closer to home.
Police have also long faced sharp criticism of their handling of calls that ended in the death or injury of a person in mental distress.
Canada’s largest mental health hospital, the Toronto-based Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, said this week officers should not respond to incidents involving people in crisis. Dozens of doctors, who called policing a public health crisis, also urged the reallocation of police money to other community programs.
In addition, two city councillors have called for a 10 per cent cut to Toronto’s police budget as a critical step toward reforming policing itself.
Premier Doug Ford, however, squarely rejected the idea of cutting money for police.
“I just don’t believe in defunding the police: It’s a massive, massive error,” Ford said. “I don’t believe in cutting police budgets. Simple as that. I believe in increasing them.”
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Ford said he supported giving more money to police for better training and community outreach, and to help them better deal with mental health calls. But a 10 per cent cut, he said, would mean 100 fewer frontline officers on the streets.
“You gotta be kidding me,” Ford said. “When you call 911, you expect the call to be answered, you expect the police to be there like ASAP.”
The premier did say those critical of the police response to some in crisis was valid, but insisted budget cuts were not the answer.
Tory, who said council had been flooded with calls and emails demanding changes, said it was imperative council show a total commitment to confronting systemic racism and reforming the current policing model.
“We must fix that model by changing the way policing is done in order to stamp out systemic racism within our police service, and to re-think, in some cases, whether police are the right community response at all,” Tory said. “Now is the time for that change.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on June 25, 2020.
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