Toronto Police Stretched Thin Ahead of Violent Transit Attacks, Says Union Head

Toronto Police Stretched Thin Ahead of Violent Transit Attacks, Says Union Head
Toronto Police Association President Jon Reid speaks to the media at the scene of a shooting in Mississauga, Ont., on Sept. 12, 2022. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press)
Tara MacIsaac

As Toronto’s population has grown, its police force has shrunk, says Toronto Police Association President Jon Reid, who represents about 8,000 officers. As a wave of violent attacks hits the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) system, Reid discusses the state of crime and policing in the city.

“We’re down at least 400 officers over the last 10 years,” he told The Epoch Times.

“We’ve effectively been defunded,” he said. The city recently approved a police budget increase of about $50 million (4.3 percent over 2022), and Reid said he’s grateful, but that will just start to replenish the drought of resources from years past.

Mayor John Tory said the new funding will bring 200 more officers; that would be only half the officers Reid said have been lost.

Although the police budget hasn’t been cut over the years, Reid said, “it’s been a zero increase budget…. The city’s budget has increased, [but] the percentage of that budget which Toronto police actually utilizes has decreased.”

Their costs have gone up as their budget has stayed the same, Reid said, and officers have been spread thin. Officers have been pulled away from duties that are more labour-intensive, but could prevent crime, to just keep up with emergency response.

Response times for 9-1-1 calls are now at more than 20 minutes for some calls, he said.

Even with more funds, it may be hard to fill the policing gaps. “Recruiting police officers across the world right now is an issue,” Reid said. “It’s unfortunate, because it’s a fantastic job. But we end up where it’s only the negative situations that come to light [in the media].”

Regarding the transit violence, Reid said “There’s a level of criminality, in which people are just committing criminal acts. Also issues of mental health and addiction and homelessness are playing out on public transit.”

He said “the criminal element” and also people with mental health issues are “colliding now with the general public that are just going about their daily tasks through life, either going to work, going home, or going to school.”

Police have said many of the attacks were perpetrated by young people, with some teenagers “swarm” attacking and some using BB guns to shoot at people. “I’m not really sure what’s causing the these,” he said. “It’s incumbent on parents to know where their kids are, what they’re doing. Parents need to pay attention also to know who they’re engaging with on social media.”

Reid has advocated this week for bail reform, which he says would keep some potential re-offenders off the streets.

He said the smuggling of illegal firearms across the border from the United States is another major issue facing police right now. “The U.S. guns are a huge problem,” he said. “It’s upwards of almost 80 percent of the firearms being seized here in Toronto.”

It’s going to take time to heal the public trust even if crimes decrease on the transit system, Reid said. “The important piece is how do people perceive it? Do they really feel safe? That’s an important thing, both on the TTC and also in the community as a whole.”