NOW Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - By JONATHAN GOLDSBIE jonathang@ now­toronto. com | @ goldsbie

When it fi­nal­ized the 2016 city bud­get on Wed nes­day, Fe­bru­ary 17, coun­cil man­aged to shave $ 220,000 from the cost of polic­ing – while re­ject­ing $ 24 mil­lion in fur­ther trims to a po­lice bud­get that topped $ 1 bil­lion for the first time.

That the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice’s al­lo­ca­tion would be al­lowed to swell by more than 2 per cent when all other divi­sions and agen­cies had been asked to cut back by at least that much was not al­to­gether sur­pris­ing. In fact, it was stan­dard.

What did make this year’s de­lib­er­a­tions spe­cial was that the long­stand­ing dis­par­ity be­tween the po­lice and ev­ery­one else was a se­ri­ous topic of con­ver­sa­tion at all. For the first time in mem­ory, po­lice spend­ing – the sec­ond­largest piece of Toronto’s over­all op­er­at­ing bud­get, be­hind only the TTC – was at the cen­tre of coun­cil’s bud­get de­bate. This was not an in­signif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment.

In a broad sense, this was a con­se­quence of a shift in pub­lic at­ti­tudes in Canada and the U. S. that has sub­jected po­lice to a new level of scru­tiny more ap­pro­pri­ate to their power. Specif­i­cally, how­ever, it was a re­sult of three for­mer polic­ing of­fi­cials – exdeputy chief Peter Sloly, ex­Po­lice Ser­vices Board chair Alok Mukher­jee and exvicechair Michael Thomp son – speak­ing out about what they saw as en­ti­tle­ment and in­tran­si­gence in the face of ef­forts to re­al­ize ef­fi­cien­cies and rein in spend­ing.

The coun­cil­lor for Ward 37 ( Scar­bor­ough Cen­tre), Thomp­son was the pub­lic face of po­lice re­straint at the meet­ing. He moved a se­ries of mo­tions struc­tured as a fourstep cas­cade of grad­u­ally di­min­ish­ing bids to peck at the force’s op­er­at­ing bud­get: the first mo­tion would cut $ 24 mil­lion ( flatlin­ing po­lice funds to 2015 lev­els) and re­al­lo­cate the money to a dozen or so other pri­or­i­ties such as child­care sub­si­dies and bus main­te­nance; the se­cond would ef­fect the same sort of change to the tune of $ 20 mil­lion; the third $ 18 mil­lion; the last $ 12 mil­lion.

It wouldn’t be the most sur­gi­cal or el­e­gant way to trim the po­lice bud­get, but Thomp­son ex­plained that his time on the board had taught him blunt­ness was some­times nec­es­sary.

“And quite frankly,” he added, “blunt in­stru­ments can work – at times.”

Each of the four mo­tions failed by the same 1228 mar­gin, Mayor John Tory’s al­lies hav­ing been given Ford­like “cheat sheets” in­struct­ing them how to vote.

That th­ese mo­tions weren’t adopted was also not much of a sur­prise. Each side knew roughly how many votes they could count on and that it was highly un­likely Thomp­son would round up a ma­jor­ity; even ab­sent a mayor’s in­flu­ence, most coun­cil­lors don’t like fid­dling with big num­bers on the fly if they can help it. The point, it seems, was the sym­bol­ism. And the fact that there was one coun­cil mem­ber in favour of the cuts for ev­ery 2.33 op­posed was no­table sup­port for an ac­knowl­edged “blunt in­stru­ment.”

More re­mark­able, how­ever, was the fact that – save for Giorgio Mam­moliti – coun­cil­lors re­peat­edly reg­is­tered their dis­sat­is­fac­tion with the sta­tus quo and their in­prin­ci­ple agree­ment with ad­dress­ing out­of­con­trol po­lice spend­ing. ( Rob Ford, coun­cil’s most re­li­able and ironic cham­pion of po­lice, was ab­sent from the meet­ing.)

The day be­fore, once it had be­come ap­par­ent that there would be an ef­fort to cut the bud­get on the floor of coun­cil, the po­lice board re­vealed the mem­bers of a task force that would be re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing about an over­haul of the ser­vice. Cochaired by Chief Mark Saun­ders and new board chair Andy Pringle, it’s com­posed of six mem­bers of the po­lice force and six mem­bers of the pub­lic, in­clud­ing some, such as for­mer city bud­get chief and may­oral can­di­date David Soknacki, with cred­i­bil­ity on the sub­ject.

Coun­cil mem­bers un­easy about the ris­ing cost of polic­ing but re­luc­tant to make the cuts them­selves would in­stead be able to put their faith in this new To­ry­backed com­mit­tee, and that’s ex­actly what they did.

There’s cer­tainly a good ar­gu­ment that a thor­ough ex­am­i­na­tion of po­lice op­er­a­tions would re­sult in smarter and more sus­tain­able re­forms than forc­ing an im­me­di­ate re­sponse to a fund­ing short­fall. But there’s al­ready a re­cent KPMG con­sul­tants’ re­port that con­tains such anal­y­sis, and the po­lice dragged their heels on im­ple­ment­ing any of its rec­om­men­da­tions.

Af­ter all, the Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice as an in­sti­tu­tion gen­er­ally re­frains from any in­di­ca­tion that it is se­ri­ously in­ter­ested in mean­ing­ful change.

Back in April 2015, Tory – who sits on the po­lice board – sup­ported a move to throw out a widely lauded card­ing pol­icy from 2014 in favour of a nar­rower set of guide­lines more palat­able to po­lice, promis­ing that a third­party re­view would catch any prob­lems down the road. He sup­posed it was bet­ter to achieve buyin with a wa­tered­down pol­icy than to stand be­hind some­thing re­sisted by the force. Two months later, in re­sponse to in­tense pub­lic pres­sure, he con­ceded this had been a mis­take and swung the board back around to sup­port the 2014 pol­icy it should have im­ple­mented in the first place.

It had been a case of a mayor lack­ing in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory giv­ing much ben­e­fit of the doubt to a po­lice force that had earned none. Or, looked at an­other way, it was a po­lice force tak­ing ad­van­tage of a new guy whom it saw as both sym­pa­thetic and naive.

As Thomp­son said about polic­ing when de­fend­ing his bud­get mo­tions, “There’s al­ways a con­tin­u­ant of ‘ next year, next year, an­other study, an­other re­view,’ and so on.”

Shel­ley Car­roll, a re­for­m­minded po­lice board mem­ber and an­other pre­vi­ous bud­get chief, op­posed the im­me­di­ate cuts be­cause she felt the task force would be a bet­ter longterm strat­egy for achiev­ing “fun­da­men­tal cul­ture change.” But in her speech to coun­cil she ac­knowl­edged that one area need­ing such change is po­lice “stonewalling and some­times coopt­ing their own civil­ian over­sight.”

There is no rea­son to be op­ti­mistic that th­ese re­form ef­forts will suc­ceed where count­less oth­ers have failed. But for once, the con­di­tions ex­ist in which they maybe, po­ten­tially, con­ceiv­ably could.

The so­ci­etal shift around po­lice and polic­ing has forged an en­vi­ron­ment in which real change is no longer un­think­able. Un likely, yes, given the ex­tent of the en­trenched in­ter­ests and power struc­tures in­volved, but not un­think­able.

“I think that this is very much our last, best hope to make a change,” Soknacki told CBC’s Metro Morn­ing, “be­cause so­ci­ety is chang­ing.”

When he kicked off his cam­paign for mayor in De­cem­ber 2013, Soknacki in­tended to make the po­lice bud­get a defin­ing is­sue of his can­di­dacy, the “third rail of mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics” that oth­ers re­fused to touch. He didn’t suc­ceed in ad­vanc­ing the political discourse to the ex­tent he would have liked, but in some re­spects the main­stream dis­cus­sion has fi­nally caught up to him. Even if it’s just a win­dow that has opened a crack, it’s an op­por­tu­nity to be seized.

Tory, in his own way, is equally sin­cere in his am­bi­tion to cut polic­ing costs. But he tends to be­lieve that he’s the first per­son to have ever tried some­thing, and that if only oth­ers had been as fo­cused and de­ter­mined as he is, they could have got­ten fur­ther. As a con­se­quence, it can be tricky to dis­cern on which is sues he knows some­thing that we don’t and on which he’s sim­ply un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the chal­lenge.

But for what­ever it’s worth, on that Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon at coun­cil, he was will­ing to bet me a beer that real change is on the way. He is gam­bling that all the con­cen­tric cir­cles of cir­cum­stances have clicked into place and that the time, at last, is right. The pub­lic de­mands it.

At the same meet­ing, Coun­cil­lor Joe Cressy moved that the po­lice bud­get be snipped by $ 220,000, and that money be redi­rected to a crimepre­ven­tion pro­gram that forms part of the city’s Youth Equity Strat­egy. De­spite the in­struc­tions on the mayor’s cheat sheet, it passed by a healthy 2517.

It’s a start.

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