This week’s drama at City Hall: the police budget. The mayor wants all departments to cut their budgets by 10%, but Chief Bill Blair — whose budget is mostly labour costs — has refused, saying that he can’t do that without taking an unacceptable number of officers off the streets.
The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle:
On Friday, the chief presented a scenario that would see a 1.5 per cent increase to the service’s $915 million operating budget, rather than the mandated 10 per cent cut.
Blair’s refusal to make concessions set [Councillor & Police Board Member Michael] Thompson off, who decided to publically question whether it was time to find a new chief if he won’t meet the budget target.
Ford made a near identical threat in January to force hiring concessions from Blair.
On Monday, in addition to his meeting with Ford, Blair set out on a daylong media offensive, giving a number of high-profile radio interviews where he spoke harshly of Thompson and defended his budget reductions.
First: Let’s stop pretending that budgeting is easy. If running a government was as simple as pointing at budgets and demanding they be made smaller, anyone could do it. Hell, why stop at a 10% reduction? Why not 20%? Or 50%? All these blanket requests do is penalize the departments that have been run efficiently in recently years, forcing them to volunteer service cuts to meet their targets.
Second: A 10% reduction year-over-year is not an ‘efficiency’ target. It’s a number that requires service cuts to achieve. And that’s fine, I guess — some people like service cuts –, except that the mayor is attempting to have his cake and eat it too: claiming efficient victories while city departments scramble to gut services to meet his targets. In the case of the police service, the mayor’s request has a clear and direct outcome: he’s taking police officers off the streets. He can’t hide from that reality. There will be fewer police officers on Toronto’s streets this year and next year because of Rob Ford.
Third: Not that fewer police officers on the streets is necessarily a bad thing. Conventional wisdom is that Toronto spends too much on policing relative to its declining crime rate. Still, it has to be noted that Rob Ford campaigned on adding 100 police officers to the force, but instead has taken several times that many off the streets. It’s also fair to ask where the reductions in the force are coming from, because it sure would be a shame if, say, community policing in priority areas took a hit in favour of traffic enforcement.
Fourth: Bill Blair’s actions during the G20 are indefensible, which is why it’s challenging to write this: he shouldn’t resign. Setting aside that weekend where Toronto turned into a police state for no real reason — and I know, that’s hard — Bill Blair has been an effective leader of the Toronto Police Services, embracing a more liberal approach to public safety. If he goes, he’ll be replaced by the same guys who thought Julian Fantino was awesome at his job, and who seem to view allegations of corruption and excessive force as assets. It’s not worth going down that road.