Skepticism Warranted When Police Say They Want Modernization
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Skepticism Warranted When Police Say They Want Modernization

TPS tweets stat depicts Toronto as twice as violent as Chicago in 2012 and 2013.

Toronto Police would like to hear from you, but, before you do so, have you noticed how bad violent crime is?

TPS is conducting a series of public consultations on what the modernization of the police force should look like. Hopefully it’s not just an exercise to justify the status quo.

In a tweet that invites Torontonians to participate in the consultation, TPS includes some stats about violent crime to frame the context for would-be consultation participants.

The accompanying chart depicts Toronto as twice as violent as Chicago in 2012 and 2013. That strikes me as an extraordinarily dubious claim. For context, so far Chicago, which has a smaller population than Toronto, has had 10 times more homicides than Toronto in 2016. Homicides are often used as a point of comparison because almost all of them are reported. Violent crime statistics are gathered differently in various jurisdictions, and to pass it off as an apples-to-apples comparison is unhelpful. (Meanwhile, on its site, the Toronto Police link to methodology to justify these numbers, which few people will read and fewer people will understand.)

For further context, Toronto Police face increased pressure to reduce its billion-dollar budget from both a task force that’s looking at the issue and a public that seems increasingly skeptical of TPS’s credibility. This comes five years after Toronto Police were effectively exempt from budget cuts during the Ford administration—when all departments were asked to give a 10 per cent budget reduction, or five per cent in the Police’s case, they finally agreed to a 0.6 per cent increase.

Far from being a violent hellhole, Toronto’s crime severity index has been cut in half over the past decade, although it did go up by two per cent last year (mostly due to an increase in fraud crimes), according to Statistics Canada information. Of the 33 Canadian cities measured, Toronto performed fourth best over the past decade. And, violent crime across North America has shown steady declines over the past 20 years.

Last year’s billion-dollar Police budget was detailed in only six pages, despite the repeated attempts by former mayor and Police critic John Sewell for more transparent and detailed information. It seems like that would be a good place to engage the public so they can offer their feedback on how to modernize policing.

The report [PDF] that the Police consultation is based on is filled with the kind of changes that would benefit TPS and the City. But based on its historic resistance to reform, it feels like a healthy dose of skepticism is in order.