In a spectacularly tone-deaf move considering the record rate of inflation and the rising costs of living, the Toronto police board has once again voted for a budget increase this year. While the working class struggle against soaring prices of food and rent, the municipal government of Toronto and Mayor John Tory have chosen to ignore social programs and are instead funding the hiring of 200 police officers and raising the budget of “police programming” that is supposed to target youth violence.
The proposed budget increase is a whopping $48.3 million more, up 4.3 per cent from 2022. It is also the largest single-year increase of the budget under John Tory’s tenure.
The CBC reported that Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw said the “$48.3-million increase would address requests for the force to improve its lagging response times, boost its presence in the downtown core, and build on its neighbourhood policing program.”
Will spending more money on the police force really create safer neighborhoods? The answer to that is a resounding no, according to many statistics provided by Canadian municipalities and Statistics Canada. An investigation conducted by The Globe and Mail in 2020 found that police spending grew 42 per cent overall between 2009 and 2018 in the provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, and Ontario. Despite Alberta having a 66 per cent growth overall in police budgets between 2009 and 2018, the Crime Severity Index (CSI) of the province actually went up by 16 per cent between the years 2011 and 2021.
The incidence of violent crime in Canada also continues to rise as of 2021, despite increased police budgets in most provinces. The overall CSI has also stayed stable in Canada as of 2021. There are no significant changes in the crime rate at all!
If the crime rate in Canada hasn’t gone down despite higher police spending overall, and in some cases such as Alberta has even risen, then what would raising the police budget in Toronto even accomplish, other than taking away funds from other essential municipal programs?
In fact, more police actually means more harm for the Black, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities in the city. The Toronto Police Service released a report in 2022 that shows a large disparity in the amount of force used between racialized groups of people. While Black people in Toronto made up only 10.2 per cent of the total population, they were massively overrepresented when it came to police use of force (at 39.4 per cent) and police strip searches (at 31.2 per cent). Black, South Asian, and East/Southeast Asian people were also 1.5, 1.6, and two times more likely respectively to have had a firearm drawn at them in comparison to white people in the city.
Demkiw, who was mentioned earlier in this article justifying the higher police budget, is not a friend of the working class, and especially not of the LGBTQ+ community. Demkiw and six other Toronto police officers were involved in a raid in 2000 of a bathhouse event held for queer women and transgender people, which was organized by the Pussy Palace Collective. In 2002, an Ontario provincial judge ruled that the raid was unlawful, and the police involved were made to apologize.
Many in the LGBTQ+ community have raised their concerns over the hiring of Demkiw, and whether he may attempt to further antagonize them. Chanelle Gallant, an original organizer of the Pussy Palace event, does not believe that Demkiw will change at all. “I put full faith that Myron Demkiw will continue to be who he has always been”, she said in a CBC News interview.
This is the kind of policing that the extra $48.3 million will go to fund. While more policing does not reduce crime, but does result in more violence and discrimination against marginalized groups, this does not mean police are not doing their jobs. They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to do: maintain the status quo, defend private property, and keep working class and oppressed people down. This is why the ruling class and its politicians will continue to spend huge amounts of money on the police, even when faced with public backlash and economic crisis, and even at the expense of programs that would create a safer city.
The budget increase to the Toronto police has been approved without investing in any other social programs like affordable housing, mental health services, crisis response, or community-led initiatives. For example, despite the TTC being a major mode of transportation for Torontonians, the transit budget actually included cuts and a fare increase of 10 cents. The city budget even removed funds from public health programs, including Toronto Public Health.
The average working class Torontonian is suffering more than ever due to high costs of rent, food, clothing, and many other essential necessities. Declining living standards lead to more instances of petty crime, and this is obvious when Toronto crime rates are examined. In the year 2022, car thefts have gone up a whopping 44.2 per cent, robberies have gone up 28.5 per cent, and theft overall has gone up 35.8 per cent, according to the Toronto Police Service data portal. Raising the amount spent on police and hiring more police officers does not solve the fundamental issues that are plaguing Toronto: a crushingly high cost of living, lack of affordable housing, declining services, and sharpening inequality, all while those at the top are raking in record profits.
To stop spending money on the police, and instead invest in things that people actually need, economic power must be taken out of the hands of the bosses. In a society democratically run by the workers, where production for profit is eliminated, people can be provided with the resources and support to meet their needs. Things like quality public housing, truly free and universal health care that includes mental health services, and youth recreation programs will naturally lead to a reduction in crime. Moreover, the elimination of private property will render a large portion of criminal offences that exist now meaningless.
This can only happen by overthrowing the system that the police exist to defend—by overthrowing capitalism.