‘An officer will be arriving in 22 minutes’: Union campaign highlights ‘dire straits’ of Toronto police staffing

A campaign popping up in social media feeds and in radio ads is aiming to highlight sluggish response times from police as the Toronto Police Service budget remains under consideration.

The campaign was launched by the Toronto Police Association — the union representing Toronto police officers —  several weeks ago and is expected to run for several more weeks.

One of the ads depicts a man pointing a gun at a driver while pulling him out of his car, while another shows a stuffed animal on a swing at a playground where a child has disappeared.

Other scenes depicted in the ads include a home invasion and a car crash with a person lying injured on the ground.

All of them say “…. an officer will be arriving in 22 minutes,” highlighting the current average response time for priority calls.

The campaign calls on residents to contact their city councillors to tell them to prioritize the police budget. It comes amid a public spat over how much of an increase Toronto police will get in the latest city budget.

“I think the primary concern of ours was to ensure that the citizens of Toronto understand the reality of what’s going on,” TPA President Jon Reid told CP24.com, noting the ads have been viewed 15 million times so far.

‘An officer will be arriving in 22 minutes’: Union campaign highlights ‘dire straits’ of Toronto police staffing

He said that while he knows some people will see the ads as “fear mongering,” the data on response times comes from TPS itself.

“Quite frankly, we’ve never ever been in such dire straits before,” he said. “I’ve been on the job 35 years and I’ve never seen things stretched so thin.”

 

Response times have degraded since 2010

According to the city, response times for priority calls averaged 12.8 minutes in 2010, when the service had 5,600 officers deployed. There were 5,126 officers deployed at 2023 year-end.

“From 2010 to 2023, with rising workloads and a decrease in average deployment of almost 600 officers, Priority One response times have degraded to over 22 minutes,” city staff said in a briefing note on the police budget.

They also pointed out that the city’s police budget has failed to keep up with inflation and that if it had, it would have been $274.2 million higher last year. In 2023, Toronto spent $372 per capita on policing, compared to the Canadian median of $409.

“We only have 37 more officers today than we had in 1999, yet we have 600,000 more residents to serve,” Chief Myron Demkiw wrote in a recent opinion piece posted the TPS website.

Reid said the additional money TPS wants would go toward four classes of 90 new police officers.

“Without that money, my understanding is from the chief that they’re unable to put those classes through, which will basically shut the pipeline down for another year,” Reid said.

While the budget does include money for 200 new police officer and civilian staff this year, Reid said the city needs to get away from a cycle of hiring and freezing, which results in staffing shortages down the road, and move toward constant steady recruitment.

“The number of officers eligible for retirement will be increasing significantly in the near future due to large groups of police officers hired in the mid-1990s after hiring freezes in the late 1980s and early 1990s,” city staff point out in their budget note. “Moreover, a significant portion of the current front-line police officers have less than five years of service.”

TPA ads

While the Toronto Police Services Board approved a $20 million budget increase for TPS in December, the revised budget put forward by Mayor Olivia Chow trimmed that increase to around $8 million.

Chief Myron Demkiw has said that difference could affect response times and service levels as it will contribute to a shortage of well-trained officers down the road.

 

Chow says city needs holistic approach to safety

Chow has argued that including indirect supports around things like reserve fund contributions and money set aside for salary negotiations, the force is actually getting an almost $60 million increase over last year and has called it “significant.”

Speaking with reporters ahead of a city council meeting Tuesday, she said she continues to have discussions around the police budget ahead of next week’s budget debate.

“I continue to dialogue with all my councillors and all the different points of view —  whether from our communities or from people that support the police or (who) are not supportive of police to get extra money,” Chow said.

The mayor said “safety needs to be seen in a holistic way” and pointed to programming for young people, mental health supports for those in crisis and other emergency services as examples of other safety priorities the city is funding outside the police budget. 

“The budget also fully funds the new 24/7 Toronto Community Crisis Service and expands it city wide. This means when people are in a mental health crisis, the first response is care,” Chow’s office said in a further statement. “The budget also invests in youth and communities to get to the roots of violence. The Mayor’s budget expands community grants, youth violence prevention and building strong neighbourhoods across the city. It also funds three more Youth Hubs that serve young people so they have a place to go after school.”

Chow’s budget is set to be debated at a special meeting of council on Feb. 14. 

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