Sewell: Crime is in a 10-year decline, cop’s wages are soaring

2.1002289.sewellIt won’t be much of a show down, at the end of the day.

The city budget chief, Shelley Carroll, needs $500 million in cuts to balance the city’s budget next year, and she has asked all city departments and agencies to cut their 2010 budget request by 5% from last year. That request has also been made of the police department.

Last year the net budget for the police was $855 million. Chopping 5% from that would mean a 2010 budget of $812 million.

But already the budget subcommittee of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) has produced its overview for next year’s budget, which concludes that the police can’t get by with less than $899.1 million, call it $900 million.

(The report can be seen at www.tpsb.ca) So for budget chief Carroll to get what she’s asked from the police, there will have to be a trim back of almost $90 million from what the board wants.

Fat chance that will happen.

The police budget has gone up every year for the past 25 years, and police managers live with the reality that whatever happens to other city departments and functions, they get the increased bucks they request. This year they argue that the wage-and-benefits package concluded a few months ago with the Toronto Police Association (TPA) will cost an extra $54 million in 2010, and what can they do about that?

It’s a pretty handsome package that was negotiated. A recruit in training is now paid the equivalent of $51,000 a year. Once the recruit joins the force, the pay now jumps to $57,000 for the first year and $81,000 for the fourth year. On top of these wages, benefits are worth another 20%. Officers are also eligible to serve as paid-duty officers hanging around construction sites and the like if they need more money.  (Toronto officers make a total of $25 million a year from this kind of off-time work.)

And there are more people working in the police service this year than last.

As set out in last year’s police budget document, the year 2009 started with 5,477 officers and 2,021 full-time civilians. Currently there are 5,576 officers and 2,056 full-time civilians. While many other city services are being shrunk, we’re paying for a larger and much better paid police force. While the number of police personnel climbs, the rate of crime continues to follow its 10-year decline, and crime rates are currently about what they were in 1977 when the police budget was something under $200 million.

So far in 2009, major crime (murder, sexual assault, robbery, break and enter, theft over $5000) is down 10% from the same time last year, and last year was down 9% from the year before. We are investing more in police even though crime is falling across the country.

There is no sign that anyone on the TPSB, the body that is supposed to represent the public interest about policing, has any appetite for showing where cuts in the budget request should be made. Board members seem closely aligned with the chief and senior police managers in most elements of police policy and strategy. In the past they have not been advocates of restrained spending.

Nor does it seem that anyone on city council is willing to begin reigning in police spending.  Sure, the police department may spend 25¢ out of every property tax dollar collected by city council, but the council doesn’t want to complain.

And in any case, if council does not give the police department the money it wants, section 39(5) of the Police Services Act says, “If the police services board is not satisfied that the budget established for it by the council is sufficient to maintain an adequate number of police officers or other employees of the police force or to provide the police force with adequate equipment or facilities, the board may request that the Ontario Civilian Police Commission determine the question and the Commission, shall, after a hearing, do so.”

That’s a nifty little appeal provision enacted by Premier Mike Harris’ government in 1997. It allows a police services board to do an end run around city council by appealing to the provincial commission.

But I suspect section 39(5) won’t be used by Toronto police next year. I’ll bet the city’s budget committee will strike a deal with the police that it will have to cut about $10 million from its budget request so it can only have $890 million, or $45 million more than last year.

Even that tiny move would be historic. But we’ll wait and see what occurs over the next few months. Sooner or later our elected leaders are going to have to address police spending seriously

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