Monteal police budget SPVM right-wing policing

The city of Montreal is overfunding the police, and the SPVM still goes over budget

Last week’s city budget proposal includes a historic $63-million increase in spending on the SPVM, which has the highest number of officers per capita in Canada and overspent last year’s budget by $50-million.

Last week, Projet Montréal presented a budget for 2023, which included a $63-million increase in police spending. If the budget is approved, this will be the largest increase in police spending in the history of Montreal, as well as another transfer of public money toward a police force that is more and more out of proportion to police operations in other Canadian cities.

If we look at the 10 largest urban police forces in Canada, the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM) distinguishes itself in several respects. It is the police force, for example, with the largest number of police officers per capita, as well as the largest budget increase between 2020 and 2022. 

For the current year, it has hard to find anything comparable in history to the extra money the SPVM has received: the largest budget increase in Canada for 2022 ($45-million), an infusion of $45-million from the government of Quebec in August to hire more police, another $25-million to provide security for COP15 and another $2.6-million two weeks ago to cover the year’s remaining expenses. 

But that’s simply budgeted police spending. Another way the SPVM distinguishes itself is by overspending its budget. According to my research, between 2017 and 2021, the SPVM overspent its budget by an average of $30-million (5%) each year. In 2022, the SPVM overspent by $50-million. None of the other large urban police services come close to this. The closest is Vancouver, with an average overspend of $2.4-million (0.76%) per year. The norm for large police services, in fact, is to come in under budget.

The reasons for SPVM overspending are hard to pinpoint. Overtime hours are often mentioned, but that’s only part of the problem. Overtime is a normal part of police operations, and every large police force both budgets for and incurs significant overtime hours each year. What’s unique about the SPVM is that it significantly exceeds budgeted overtime hours every year. Between 2017 and 2021, it overspent on overtime by an average of $18-million per year.

The SPVM’s overtime spending raised concerns last year, when they totalled $63-million — more than double the budgeted amount. Apparently, these concerns did not lead to better management, as the SPVM will exceed its overtime budget this year by $33-million.

In other words, Montreal police not only received an unprecedented budget increase this year, but has also allocated itself an extra $33-million.

We can well say that Montreal has faced certain security problems in recent years, notably gun crime, but that raises as many questions as it resolves. After all, Montreal is not unique in facing an increase in certain kinds of violent crime, and it remains a large Canadian city with the lowest number of homicides per capita. In contrast, it is unique in its massive police budget increase and the level of overspending it permits.

It needs to be recognized that most police work is a response to social problems that weren’t addressed. (The SPVM’s new director, Fady Dagher, has often made this point, and he is not the only one.) The less we invest in solving actual problems — in preventing violence, in providing stable housing, etc. — the more we turn to the police to maintain the “social order” through surveillance, harassment and repression. 

It is obviously preferable to invest “upstream,” to solve social problems rather than repress their symptoms. But are we given the choice? In 2020, the city surveyed the population on its budget priorities. 73% of Montrealers indicated they wanted to see the SPVM budget reduced, a result Projet Montréal ignored. To avoid an answer they’d prefer not to hear, the party excluded the question about police funding from its 2021 survey and eliminated the survey altogether this year.

With a proposed police budget increase of $63-million for 2023, Montreal seems to be at a crossroads, and it will be more and more difficult to choose a different path in the future. Montrealers need to decide whether we’re comfortable with a police force that is increasingly outsized and overfunded compared with those in other cities, and a public safety strategy that relies almost entirely on repression.

If that’s not the case, it’s time to reverse the trajectory of recent years, reduce the SPVM budget and require the force to respect the budget it is allocated. The money saved can then be invested in programs and initiatives that address social problems and reduce the need for police interventions. ■

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