There's an interesting line in material supporting the police budget for 2008. "Leap year," it reads, "$1.40 M."
The force isn't subsidizing the Gregorian calendar - that's the cost of a longer year. One day of paying officers, one and a half million: $255 per officer per day.
It also means that if the effects of one less "police day" were annualized - meaning cutting the force by a 365th, or 15 officers - savings would cover the recent cuts to libraries, or would have pre-empted the debate on rink openings. Put another way, each deployed police officer is worth two public rinks. Or 18 people on welfare. Hey, this is fun.
This isn't to say that 15 officers should be fired tomorrow. Well, all right, it is. But given that few councillors have the temerity to ask the ballooning police budget for its badge number, let's settle for now on this: in a giant, secretive paramilitary organization filling an emotionally charged niche - and requesting $840 million gross to keep doing it - there are cuts to be found.
Right-wing cost crusaders have demanded a chance to personally palpate every staff member's flanks before allowing any money to pass through a cash-strapped council, but still the word on the police budget is that there's no word to be had.
The auditor has never really looked at police funding. He's examined police overtime controls and in 1998 audited the police services' capital budget - along with the fire department's and emergency services'. That's it. Meanwhile, tech projects - cruiser cameras or the eCops database - escalate in time and cost.
After repeated mulligans and nearly half a million spent, the camera pilot is still on the runway. When you've got money to throw around, why get it right the first time?
"We need someone [from outside] to sit down and say, "That's where the savings are,'" says Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina). "We've never been able, since Susan Eng was here, to get a really good look at reforming the police budget. I think it's politically managed by the police union."
Eng was police board chair in the 90s. I asked her to reflect on the differences between then and now.
"Now it actually looks like a budget. There are lines in it, with different numbers," she says with a laugh. "It's not that it's different from any other budget, but that politicians are afraid to touch it. It's always, "If you touch our budget, blood will run in our streets.' It always was, and still is."
Police CAO Tony Veneziano points out that for the last few years, the force has underspent and that the chief has ordered cuts to unnecessary civilian positions.
The auditor, he says, will be looking at court security costs and superintendant Kim Derry will be doing his own audit for efficiencies in response times and how divisions are structured. "We are continually looking at ways to get savings,' he says.
But the biggest sticking point today - the police union's jealously guarded crown jewel, the compressed work-week - is just as sticky as in Eng's time. The system schedules beats two years in advance and lets officers work the same amount of hours in fewer days, with long stretches off. This means zero scheduling flexibility to meet emergencies, which costs the force lots of overtime.
"We have an approach to policing that says, "There could be a riot any time,'" says Vaughan - and yet policing the entertainment district still nets overtime. "There shouldn't be a need for overtime. There should be a scientific approach to understanding what the divisions' workloads look like."
(Spokespeople for police services did not respond to NOW's request for comment.)
The board has expressed concerns about costs - and I'm told the board privately talks the brass down from even bigger budget requests - but the only public financial issue is provincial court security. Since amalgamation, Toronto covers all court security, for $38 million. That's more than many towns spend on policing. Egregious, no doubt.
Crime has been falling for years. Yes, murders were higher this year. Chief Bill Blair himself said that's largely attributable to domestic abuse. What if dollars were diverted from a ballooning police budget to the ballooning waiting list for transitional housing or services for abused women? We come inexorably back to the heavily armed elephant in the room: there may just be, as the old chant goes, too many cops, not enough justice.
At the top of the month, the board held its first public budget consultation. It was a nice gesture, but with relevant material light on detail, there wasn't much to say. Anna Willats of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition tried. "The city was unable to find $160,000 to keep the rinks open all winter," she said. "The cost of a new officer, all in, is $100,000. We chase the pennies and don't pay attention to the dollars."
Mayor David Miller - whose uncommon appearance at the board, if I'm reading my almanac correctly, was a portent of a short winter - said that the "community policing" strategy to increase "officer contacts" relies on the current level of force.
But one person's "contact" is another's pile-on. Without a detailed breakdown, we'll have to go on anecdotal evidence. Here's mine: eight cops attending to a drunk Aboriginal man on Queen; seven cruisers to break up a fight between two men in the Annex; six cruisers to chase beer-drinking kids out of a park in Chinatown. Not to mention all the overtime spent, ironically, on anti-poverty protests.
And yet, we're told, some neighbourhoods are under-policed. That may be true, but given the anachronistic staffing model, are we sure the issue is one of size?
I ask board vice-chair Pam McConnell if she thinks there might come a time when the force is cut. She says no. "It's not about how many we have, but what we do with what we've got," she says. "We've put our officers into community policing. The other half is making sure that there's sufficient social programs within a neighbourhood. I would never take one over the other."
Fair enough, but let me draw attention once more to that first thought: it's not about how many we have, but what we do with what we've got.
And what we're doing depends on who you ask.