Toronto police chief expects $20M funding boost to bring response times down this year

Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw says he anticipates improved 911 response times this year after the service was given a controversial $20 million budget increase by the city council this week.

“I do expect response times to start to come down,” Demkiw said during an interview with CBC Radio’s Here and Now on Thursday.

He added that a batch of new hires will play an important role in reducing how long it takes officers, on average, to get to what the service calls “priority one” emergency calls — a figure that currently stands at 22.6 minutes, according to Demkiw.

“Next week we graduate 146 recruits from the police college and they are going to be going to police stations across the city to help … They are of course brand new officers and it will take some time for them to train and get practical experience,” he said.

“But we are going to be re-evaluating response times and reporting them out publicly throughout the year and I do expect them to change, throughout the course of the year, in the right direction.”

Earlier this week, city council adopted a motion during its final debate on the 2024 budget that will see Toronto police receive an additional $20 million this fiscal year, bringing the service’s total budget to about $1.2 billion.  

The motion came after police and their union, the Toronto Police Association (TPA), carried out a weeks-long campaign advocating for the funding boost. The effort included a messaging blitz on social media, editorials in newspapers and a slew of media interviews by Demkiw and representatives of the TPA. 

Average response times featured heavily in the campaign, with Demkiw arguing that the force is already stretched too thin and the money is necessary to improve service delivery, particularly when it comes to deploying officers to emergency calls.

In January, city staff’s proposed budget included an additional $7.4 million for police, $12.6 million less than the figure the Toronto Police Services Board had unanimously approved at Demkiw’s request the month prior. The proposed funding allocation came as staff tried to fill a $1.8 billion hole in the city’s budget leftover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow then released her own budget proposal, which stuck with the figure in the city’s staff draft budget. Throughout their campaign, the police and the TPA characterized the $7.4 million as a funding “cut” and warned public safety was at risk if they didn’t get the full amount. 

Chow and some of her council allies refuted that assessment and some critics of the police campaign said it was an attempt to intimidate councillors and scare the public.

“It’s the normal thing that police do in Toronto, which is they try to intimidate people who want to make change in Toronto police. We’ve got a long history of that in Toronto,” former mayor John Sewell told Here and Now.

But by Wednesday, Chow had reversed her position, revealing on the eve of the last budget debate that she would support giving police the full $20 million they had requested. Chow said the money could be pulled from a reserve fund that will be replenished by provincial and federal funding.

Demkiw was at city hall during the final budget table, telling councillors that there are currently 140 unstaffed sergeant positions and 40 unfilled staff sergeant positions and that promoting existing officers into these supervisory roles will also be a key part of reducing response times.

In 1995, the police services board set a response-time target for priority one calls of six minutes. The board plans to review that figure to see if it aligns with current demands on the service and the state of crime in the city.

Speaking to Here and Now, Demkiw didn’t say where he hopes to see response times eventually land, but indicated they are an immediate priority for police management.

 “We are absolutely laser focused on evaluating our response times on a regular basis,” he said.


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