Toronto city councillors demand answers on new police deployment on transit amid rise in violence

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A group of city councillors is demanding answers from Toronto Mayor John Tory over his plan to deploy 80 Toronto police officers on the transit system every day to address a rise in violence.

In a letter sent to Tory on Tuesday, the councillors say they only learned of the deployment through a new conference the mayor held with the city’s police service and transit officials. They ask a series of questions about the decision, including what the move will cost taxpayers and if alternatives were considered.

“Recent tragedies have increased the urgency to ensure safety for transit riders and operators, who are understandably concerned,” the councillors write.

“However, there are a range of different approaches to increasing safety and wellbeing on public transit and in our communities.”

Councillors Amber Morley, Gord Perks, Alejandra Bravo, Ausma Malik, Josh Matlow and Paula Fletcher co-signed the letter to Tory. In addition to questions about costs, they ask how Toronto police and the TTC will develop a “system safety and wellness plan” that ensures past violence and discrimination experienced by Black and Indigenous users will not be repeated.

The councillors also point to city staff data estimating that anywhere from 30 to 50 per cent of TTC special constable interactions involve passengers who are experiencing homelessness, are intoxicated or are experiencing a mental health crisis. With that in mind, they ask if deploying workers trained in crisis response was considered.

Fletcher told CBC Toronto that with only four warming centres in the city and temperatures dropping, people experiencing homelessness are going to seek shelter in the transit system.

“Those are the people we need to worry about and have a plan for,” she said.

Police deployment will add millions to city budget: Perks

Perks said adding new police officers, who will be paid overtime to patrol the transit system, will add millions more to the city budget.

The councillors want the transit system to be safe, but they also want it done by addressing the problem with the appropriate resources, he said.

“We want a safe city, and that means spending for impact, which includes providing real supports,” Perks said.

“And we want council and the public to be made aware of what the options are, what they cost and what the outcomes will be.”

Councillors would rather ‘play politics,’ Tory says

Tory shot back at the councillors in a social media statement. Questions about “operational matters” at the TTC and Toronto police should be directed to those organizations, he said.

“I’m focused on working with the TTC, Toronto Police, and City of Toronto staff on solutions that will help keep people safe,” he said.

“It’s disappointing that some councillors would rather play politics than work together on immediate and long-term solutions to violence and crime.”

Tory said the city is addressing the surge in violence by adding additional safety measures to the system, but also by investing in solutions to the root cause.

“I am committed to investing in all aspects of community safety including crisis services, outreach workers, anti-violence programming, and investments for families and youth,” he said.

Last week, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said the officers who will be patrolling the TTC will be doing so in an overtime capacity, as to not compromise efforts to improve response times for police calls across the city.

Demkiw did not say how much the plan would cost, but said police will monitor the situation “day-to-day, week-to-week” to see what costs will be, and are “prepared to scale as required.”

Demkiw has asked city council to spend an additional $48 million on police budget in 2023, in part to hire 200 more officers. They’re needed to help increase emergency call response times, he has said.

That request has come in addition to a plan to spend $4 million to hire more special constables at the TTC..

Perks said all of those announcements were made by Tory under the new budget process made possible the “strong mayor” powers awarded to him by Premier Doug Ford and his provincial government.

The new system gives Tory control over writing the budget and means city councillors need a two-thirds majority to change the spending package.

“City hall seems to just operate inside the mayor’s office,” Perks said.

“We have senior public officials like the chief of police and head of the TTC, making joint announcements with the mayor for programs that aren’t costed, that council has never been informed about, and that the public has had no opportunity to review.”

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