Platform: The Gomberg for Mayor Platform Plank on Policing

The Gomberg for Mayor platform plank on Policing

Police trick or treat.

Since amalgamation in 1998, City Council has increased the police budget substantially every year ($39 million increase in total, or 7.8%) despite falling crime rates. At the same time, funding to other city departments, including public health, TTC and social services has been cut.

A special summer program, “Community Action Policing” (CAP), was created in 1999 and funded again for the summer of 2000. Homeless people, youth, people who squeegee or panhandle, queer people, people of colour, Aboriginal peoples, new immigrants, and psychiatric survivors are those most at risk of police intimidation, harassment and violence under programs such as CAP.

Recent provincial moves to force police to force people to take medication, to evict people in winter to the streets, to suppress activists, etc., have simultaneously endangered the citizens and the police who enforce these laws.

This is “law versus order”: the ideology of majority rule of law is used as an excuse to direct police to deny fundamental rights long guaranteed in Charter and UN treaties. Brute force is chosen as if it were a “solution” to economic and social issues.

But there are many practical and effective alternatives to a “law and order” response to safety issues. Building affordable housing, providing opportunities for employment, and adequate income are other choices that are much more likely to go beyond cosmetic changes to really improve the safety and the health of all communities and reduce the confrontation. Public space in cities, the civil commons, should be accessible for all members of the community for all non-violent purposes. Bylaws cannot over-rule basic rights.

Community safety must be defined in terms of social, health and economic factors. Most importantly, lives likely lost must be calculated for all civic decisions, including those where people and police are forced into confrontations. Should we wait for preventable deaths? I think not. If elected Mayor, I would do the following to make the City of Toronto safe for all its residents:

1. Eliminate targeted policing programs such as Community Action Policing.

2. End discriminatory police practices that target people who are already marginalized by social and economic forces. Offer them specific non-judgemental help instead, as police did when they distributed sleeping bags to the homeless who chose to remain outside.

3. Support a change in budget priorities that will mean more funding to services for people, including housing, recreation, childcare, and public transit, and less emphasis on policing. Train police to quickly refer people to social services and charitable help on the spot where appropriate and welcome — cut the bureaucracy involved.

4. Work toward a strong, public oversight over policing in Toronto. Find the “5% of cops that should not be wearing a badge” according to former Chief David Boothby, and remove them from the force immediately.

5. Deny posts on any council committee to Councillors who accept Police Union Funds.

6. End the police helicopter program and spend the money on playgrounds.

7. City council must provide leadership in opposing provincial hegemony, especially over police matters. The management and supervision of police services must be under the city’s sole control.