Police Budget 2012: How Bill Blair beat Rob Ford

2012 Police Budget: Requested vs. Delivered

Are you ready for some totally ridiculous math?

Check this out: The mayor has rather famously asked all departments to cut 10% from their operating budgets for 2012. This is a neat trick that, I guess, is supposed to let him deflect some of the blame for the inevitable service cuts that come from such a huge target. The request has made a lot of people unhappy.

For the police services — with a budget approaching a billion dollars per year — this request worked out to about $90 million in cost reductions. We know this is the case, because a report, the 2011 Environmental Scan, presented at this week’s police board meeting — the very same meeting at which the budget was passed — included this unambiguous sentence: “The city recommended 2012 operating budget target for the Toronto Police Service reflected an overall decrease of $84 million, about 10%, from the total 2011 approved budget.” (See Agenda Item 5; a straight-up 10% reduction totals $93 million, but the city probably accounted for some — but clearly not all — mitigating factors in its original request, to knock that down to $84 million.)

Okay, so the mayor wanted the chief to cut 10%. But the chief said he couldn’t do it. And of course he couldn’t: it was only a few months back that the mayor approved a giant pay increase for officers in this city. The police budget is more than 80% labour. You’re not going to make a  dent in that without taking cops off the street.

Here’s where things get ridiculous: at this week’s meeting, the chief came forward with a budget request for $936 million. This is $5.9 million more than the 2011 budget, a 0.6% increase year-over-year. There is no reasonable way to present this as any kind of reduction, let alone 10%.

And yet, as the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale tells us:

The 2011 police budget was $930 million. Blair’s “starting budget” added the $23 million in salary increases produced by this year’s collective agreement with officers, then added $26 million in other “pressures identified during 2011,” for a total of $979 million.

Using this figure, two Ford allies on the board, Thompson and council speaker Frances Nunziata, joined Blair in arguing that his $936 million budget request amounts to a $43 million cut — about 4.6 percentage points of the requested 10.

“It’s a huge reduction,” Nunziata said.

via Blair wins: Ford poised to accept police budget hike | Toronto Star.

So, through the power of imagination — and uncompetent thinking — a 0.6% budgetary increase is now being touted as a 4.6% budgetary decrease.

I guess the lesson to be learned here for all city departments is to start high. Come in with a huge budgetary request for 2012. Then whittle it down a tad and claim mega savings. With imaginary money on the table, we can all be fiscal conservatives.

Why Blair’s strategy worked

Other departments are unlikely to get away with so blatantly side-stepping the mayor’s request for cost reductions, even though that request will undoubtedly mean major service cuts. Blair was able to pull this off because he put the mayor in a position where he would have to publicly endorse a reduction in the number of police officers in Toronto to achieve his target. There is no way that Ford was going to do that.

Still, it’s worth noting that this is a mayor who campaigned on adding one hundred officers but will likely end his term having taken many times that number off the streets through attrition and hiring freezes.

A caveat

There’s still a conversation that needs to be had about the cost of policing in this city relative to declining crime rates. There might be a better way forward. But that is not a conversation this administration seems capable of having.

Further reading

Over at The Clamshell, David Hains has a very nice analysis of the police budget and all the steps that got us here.

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