Defund the police? This is how much Canadian cities spend
TORONTO -- An analysis by CTVNews.ca of 18 of Canada’s largest cities, regions and provincial capitals found more than half allocated 15 per cent or more of their 2020 operating budget to policing, with cities in Western Canada budgeting 20 per cent or more.
Coast-to-coast, from Vancouver to Charlottetown, P.E.I., Canadian cities are spending 15 to 20 per cent or more of their budget on law enforcement, the bulk of it coming from municipal taxes. Cities that do not have a municipal force were excluded from the analysis.
Cries to defund the police have rung out in protests across the United States, sparked by the death of George Floyd, seen in a video pleading and gasping for air as a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee against his neck -- long after he had already gone silent.
Around the world and in Canada, cities are also facing public pressure to reduce their law enforcement budgets to reallocate funds to other areas including mental health and community social support services.
It is a contentious issue, however. Ontario Premier Doug Ford has already dismissed the idea for the Ontario Provincial Police, saying he believes in strengthening policing through better community involvement.
In recent months, several deaths that followed “wellness checks” by Canadian police have sparked further discussion over whether police officers are properly trained or even the appropriate authority to deal with someone having a mental health crisis, in particular those who are Black, Indigenous, or a person of colour.
In June, 62-year-old Ejaz Choudry was killed in his home by police in Mississauga, Ont., after the family said it called a non-emergency helpline because he was having a mental health episode. Paramedics who arrived called the police after Choudry was seen with a knife in his hand. Earlier in the month, Chantel Moore, an Indigenous woman, was shot and killed by police in New Brunswick during another wellness check, while Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black, Indigenous woman, fell from her apartment balcony in Toronto last month while police officers were in her home.
BIGGEST POLICE BUDGET IN CANADA
At the end of June, Toronto city council rejected a 10 per cent cut to the police budget, about $107 million, and instead passed a motion on police reform that includes implementing body cameras and overhauling the way Canada’s largest municipal police force responds to people in crisis.
A 10 per cent reduction would have meant cutting about 1,000 police officers, according to the Canadian Press, a move that could take years to implement due to collective bargaining agreements with the union.
The Toronto Police Service operating budget for 2020 is $1.22 billion, about 9 per cent of the city’s $13.53 billion operational budget for 2020. More than $3 billion is distributed for various social support and development programs including employment, social assistance, child-care, long-term care services, helping under-resourced neighbourhoods, housing and shelter support.
In early June, the Vancouver Police Board rejected a motion by city council calling for a 1 per cent cut to the police’s $339 million budget, about 21 per cent of the city’s $1.62 billion operating budget for 2020.
Meanwhile, Edmonton city council approved a motion in early July that included cutting the police service’s budget by $11 million over the next two years amid weeks of debate around police reform.
South of the border, the city of Los Angeles voted on July 1 to cut police department hiring, slashing the LAPD’s budget by US$150 million. The cut brings the department’s staffing down to its lowest level in 12 years, the Los Angeles Times reported. The city said the money would eventually be reallocated into services like hiring programs and summer youth jobs for Black, Latino and other marginalized communities.
BIGGEST LINE ITEM ON THE BUDGET
For cities in Western Canada including Victoria, Vancouver, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, policing accounts for at least 20 per cent of their 2020 operating budgets. Among them, all but Vancouver have policing as the city’s biggest expenditure. (Utilities is listed as Vancouver’s biggest operating expenditure in its 2020 budget, though annual financial reports show that police is the city’s biggest expense.)
In Victoria, the police force accounts for roughly 23 per cent of the city’s total operating expenses for 2020. For Vancouver, Saskatoon and Regina, it’s just over 20 per cent. Edmonton and Calgary are the exceptions.
The Winnipeg Police Service is getting $304.1 million this year, or 26.6 per cent of the city’s $1.14 billion tax-supported operating expenditures. It is the largest percentage among the cities examined by CTVNews.ca. By comparison, community services in Winnipeg are getting $115 million, or 10 per cent of the budget.
As in many other cities, a petition has been circulating calling for change and defunding the Winnipeg police. Chief Danny Smyth said in June that it was too early to “just say defund the police and forward that all to social services” but added there was room for conversation on what such a move could look like.
Even places with modest budgets, like Charlottetown, P.E.I., which has a budget of $59.7 million, allocates more than 16 per cent to police. In Fredericton, N.B., more than 14 per cent of its $124.4 million budget (including capital expenditures) goes to policing. That portion is more than 18 per cent if capital expenditures are excluded.
In larger southern Ontario, Toronto-area cities and regions including Hamilton, Waterloo, Peel, and York, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent each year on policing. Peel and York, which have similar operating budgets of approximately $2.5 billion, spend about $445.8 million and $384.2 million, respectively, or 17 and 16 per cent. The Waterloo Regional Police, which also serves Kitchener, Ont., accounts for just over 17 per cent of the region’s operating budget. Hamilton’s police budget accounts for nearly 19 per cent of the city’s net operating budget. (That portion is halved however, if calculated based on the tax and rate supported gross operating expenditure).
Nearly all cities that spend roughly 10 per cent or less on policing have operating budgets of at least $1 billion. These include Toronto, Calgary, Ottawa, Quebec City, Montreal and Halifax, which has a budget just shy of a billion.
According to Statistics Canada data, the average salary among municipal police officers was $100,962 for 2017/2018, the latest year in which data is available. And while police spending has increased, the number of police officers per 100,000 people has been shrinking, the data showed.
In the United States, data varies depending on the source, but the percentage allocated to police departments for the 10 largest cities in the country ranged from 6 per cent to 17.4 per cent based on an analysis by U.S. News & World Report. Data compiled by the Center for Popular Democracy, a progressive advocacy group, which includes other cities, showed that percentage ranged as high as 20 to 45 per cent, with such cities as Minneapolis accounting for more than 35 per cent and Milwaukee making up nearly 48 per cent.
One important caveat to note is that cities are all structured differently and may report their finances or categorize their spending differently as well, so a true apples-to-apples comparison is extremely difficult. A few cities include utilities as part of its operating expenses, for example, while many do not.The Canadian police data in this analysis was collected and calculated based on figures presented in 2020 budget proposals and reports released by each city and region. As much as possible, comparable figures were used. In general, total operating budget or expenditure budget excluding capital expenditures as presented in the budget reports were used. In some cases, for example, figures provided may be net of recoveries and/or transfers, terms for certain types of financial transactions in accounting.
Infographics by Mahima Singh. With files from CTV News’ Graham Slaughter and Colin D’Mello in Toronto and Danton Unger in Winnipeg
A previous version of the illustration "How much do cities spend on policing?" incorrectly double-counted police budgets. The pie charts have been adjusted to show the correct total operating expenditures, with the police budget in dark green and the remaining budget in light green.