TORONTO -- A $1 billion police budget request that includes money for the hiring of hundreds of additional officers has been approved by the Toronto Police Services Board’s budget committee.

Police Chief Mark Saunders had put forward a $1.076 billion budget for 2020, which represents a 3.9 per cent increase ($40.8 million) from 2019.

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About two-thirds of the increase ($28.9 million) is related to the impact of new collective bargaining agreements with officers while the remainder will largely go towards the implementation of a body-worn camera and the hiring of an additional 341 uniformed officers by 2021.

In a report released last week, Saunders said that the average number of uniformed officers has declined by 685 over the last decade due to a hiring moratorium and an increased number of retirements.

He said that police have had to fill the gap through an increasing reliance on the use of overtime pay; something that he said is not “fiscally sustainable.”

“Investments are required in order to meet the needs of a growing and complex city,” the report states. “It is not sustainable to continue to offset exceptional growth with efficiencies and staffing reductions and also continue to deliver service levels that keep the city safe.”

The hiring of the new officers will enable the TPS to expand its neighbourhood community officer program and deploy an additional 140 uniformed cops to priority response units that are available to respond to major crime calls across the city.

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Speaking with CP24 following Thursday’s meeting, TPS board chair Jim Hart said that the additional officers are necessary given the growth being experienced by the city.

“The city itself is increasing faster than any other city in North America so we have to account for that. You can’t have a static police service when you have that much growth,” he said.

While Hart said that the budget will allow for the delivery of an “effective and efficient” police service, some people have questioned the need to hire additional officers.

Former mayor John Sewell, who is a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, told CP24 following the meeting that the TPS just needs to reassign some officers in order to better meet the needs of a growing city.

“We think that their priorities are correct but in fact they shouldn’t be hiring people for that, they should be reassigning them,” he said. “We think there are areas where in fact officers are not used to their full potential. One is that the shift schedule requires as many officers to be working at 4 a.m. as at 7 p.m. and that seems crazy to me. Secondly two officers in a car after dark is the rule in Toronto but many other police forces in Canada don’t follow so you can free up officers there as well.”

The budget request will go to the TPS board as a whole for approval on Dec. 16. It will then be considered by city council in early 2020.