Ask Your Candidate: Toronto Police Service

Toronto Police | TAV59

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

By Lauren Atmore

With a city as dense and diverse as Toronto, it’s important that our police services are able to handle a wide range of community issues with tact and sensitivity while continuing to maintain order. While there is no doubt that our men and women in blue are a crucial force, several problems have arisen since the last election.

There is no better time to learn your candidates’ stance on these matters than now. With approximately 9,150 officers in the Toronto, York and Peel forces and a budget close to $1 billion dollars annually for Toronto’s agency alone, every candidate should have something to say about this municipal service.

1. Where does your candidate stand on the increased access to and use of tasers by Toronto police?

Toronto Police Service (TPS) Chief Bill Blair has openly supported the idea that more use of tasers amongst his force “has the potential to save lives.” Looking back on the death of Sammy Yatim, an 18-year-old killed in a struggle with Toronto Police in 2013, access to a taser could have made all the difference. The officer who shot and killed Yatim was a constable. At this rank, he wasn’t allowed to have and use a taser. Some argue, however, that an increase in de-escalation training would be sufficient to complement the existing force police offers currently have. “What we’re worried about is that tasers will be used when police wouldn’t have used guns in the first place,” explains Sakura Saunders of Disarm Toronto Police. “We’re not suggesting that all police don’t have arms, but that specially trained officers have guns that can be called in.”

2. Mental distress calls to emergency services are increasing. Does your candidate have a plan to handle the costs associated with these special demands while remaining sensitive to the range of needs of those with mental illness?

With over 20,000 calls coming in annually “directly related to mental health”, tactics must be put in place to ensure the safety of the public as well as the individual involved. Arrests under Provision 28, which allows TPS to apprehend an individual believed to be mentally ill, have increased 16 per cent from 2010 to 2012. A renewed effort has taken place to partner with national mental health groups to combat the increase in these confrontations, but are the right steps being taken? Does your candidate support a long-term plan for deep-rooted change?

3. What does your candidate think of measures like carding and strip searches? Are they an undue burden, evidence of systemic bias, or a helpful tool in cleaning up our streets?

With almost one third of all arrests leading to a strip search, there has been concern for several years that this tactic is overused. It has been suggested by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition that the Level 3 search rate should be closer to 5 per cent of all arrests, and that new technology such as scanners similar to those in airports can help fill in the gap. While those tools would certainly be less invasive, it could lead to more people being searched without grounds while bumping up general TPS budget costs.

Carding, the practise of police asking to see identification from just about anyone they choose to ask is a method designed to keep our communities safe. Whether this technique works in apprehending individuals carrying out crimes or in reminding people that at any moment they could be asked to identify themselves, there is no doubt that this request is not carried out equally among Toronto’s residents. For instance, though Black Canadians comprise about 8 percent of Toronto’s population, they represent 23 per cent of all random cardings – about three times that of white people. Though recent regulations have come into place regarding carding, including officers being required to let the targeted individual know their rights, it’s hard to know what measures are effective in preventing racial profiling. Does your candidate have any ideas to contribute to this debate?

4. Does your candidate have a stance on the TPS budget? Does their stance include specific areas to spend on and others to save on? 

In 2013, Toronto Police Services had a net budget of $927,740.50–almost one billion dollars–which also includes lifeguard and crossing guard programs across the city. To some, there is never enough funding available to those on our city’s front line. To others, TPS represents a force that obstructs individual liberties while adding little to community safety. Having to pay such high amounts adds insult to injury.

Whichever way you look at it, Toronto’s population is increasing year over year and as such, there are more people to keep an eye on and more situations to respond to. Could there be a better way to handle add-on costs, such as lifeguard and crossing guard services? Should wages be frozen to help cover growing costs of technology, or should the budget be expanded to cover the needs of both officers and citizens? When costs are spread out to the community as in the case of paid duty services, there appears to be a decrease in use when the costs go up. Is there any way this can be mitigated so events can properly supervised?

Finding a balance when it comes to community safety and those who enforce it can be difficult. It’s easy to say that you can’t put a price on health and safety but each year, requests are made to increase budgets, to increase benefits, to increase technologies designed to streamline procedures, and each year many of those requests are denied. The City doesn’t have infinite funds to cover all of the needs of this essential service. The candidates we elect, however, are the ones who decide what to spend on and where to save.

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Ask Your Candidate: Taxes

By: Seb FoxAllen

In elections, candidates use taxes as an easy way to position themselves as opponents or defenders of the size of government. Lowering taxes costs residents less, but the lost revenue also means that existing services need to be cut (or supported by a user fee) in order to balance the books. Raising taxes can equip the city with more revenue to provide services, but some residents wonder whether that money is being used effectively in ways that matter to them. The City of Toronto earns tax revenue through two main streams: Property taxes (39.4% of total city revenues) and the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (3.6% of total city revenues).

1. Can Toronto afford to maintain property tax rates lower than the regional average?

One of the central municipal revenue tools is property taxes. In 2014, the average Toronto resident will pay roughly 25% less in property taxes than those in nearby municipalities like Mississauga and Richmond Hill.

Property taxes are not only paid by homeowners; they are also factored into monthly unit rental prices. If a candidate refers to Torontonians as “over-taxed” or struggling under an unfair tax burden, ask them why Toronto does not require the same revenue levels as other cities.

2. Would you consider increasing taxes over the inflationary rate?

Taxes are raised by a small amount each year to adjust for inflation. When candidates talk about cutting taxes, they are often proposing an increase smaller than inflation.

Recently, City Manager Joe Pennachetti told City Council that “[i]nflationary rates aren’t going to maintain services into the future,” arguing that even keeping taxes at current levels will require cuts to programs and services. Pennachetti also stressed that the types of small internal “efficiencies” often used to cut costs have been exhausted.

Ask your candidate whether they would support collecting larger revenues from property taxes and, if not, what new revenue streams (user fees for services, privatization) or cuts to programs they would use to counter the lost income.

3. How can the City make it easier for renters to understand their property tax contribution?

Many renters are not aware that they pay property taxes as part of their rent. In many cases, renters pay even more in property taxes than other types of tenants. Ask your candidate whether they have ideas (like expanding the Rent Reduction Program) on how to better inform renters of their property tax contributions.

4. Do you support maintaining the Municipal Land Transfer Tax (MLTT)?

The MLTT is paid when purchasing new land or a new home. Ask your candidate whether they support maintaining it, and if not, how the City would offset the $340 million the MLTT generates.

 

Toronto Police Service Board deputation

Today the Toronto Police Service Board (TPSB) conducted a public consultation to get input from Toronto residents about systemic issues with the Toronto Police Service. You can read more about the consultation’s purpose and guidelines for submissions on Paisley Rae’s blog. You can read live-tweets from the proceedings in Paisley’s Storify. We are sorry to say the turnout was pretty sparse, perhaps not least because the consultation commenced at 4:00pm when many are still at work. Perhaps not least because many people fear the police.

WiTOpoli Executive Director Steph Guthrie deputed on our behalf about police misunderstandings of harassment laws in the Criminal Code of Canada. Check out the text of our deputation below. We regret to inform you that the TPSB had no questions following our deputation. We will keep you posted on any response we receive regarding the deputation.