Some Toronto residents say they're waiting up to 24 hours for police after calling 911
Published Monday, January 9, 2023 9:39PM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 10, 2023 5:19AM EST
Sergio de Ilzarbe came home from his Christmas holidays to find his window smashed in and part of his home ransacked.
The 35-year-old Toronto resident says he was a victim of a break-and-enter while in Niagara Falls with his family. Upon their return on New Year’s Eve, at around 4 p.m., he said the family found about $3,000 to $4,000 worth of items missing, and their bedroom in complete disarray.
“They made a mess in the room,” Ilzarbe told CTV Toronto.
After speaking with a 911 dispatcher, he said he was transferred to the Toronto Police Service (TPS) non-emergency line since nobody was injured and the perpetrator was long gone.
From there, de Ilzarbe said it took about 18 hours for police to arrive.
“I went to sleep around 4 a.m., and they’re not coming,” he said. “[I] call the police and say, ‘Okay, I cannot keep waiting it’s 4 a.m., but I’m here, so if you’re coming, call me.’”
By Sunday morning at 10 a.m., an officer had responded to their home, but by that time, de Ilzarbe said he and his family already spent the night exposed to cold temperatures from the broken window.
“I need to fix it, but I don’t want to touch [it] in case there are fingerprints, and the police keep not coming,” de Ilzarbe said.
During one of his calls, he says dispatch told him he could wait in his car during that time if he was cold.
In an email to CTV Toronto, a spokesperson for TPS said they could not “comment on [de Ilzarbe’s] occurrence without any verification on the matter,” and pointed to recent comments made by new TPS chief Myron Demkiw.
“Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made towards building capacity at the Service, there’s more work that needs to be done to ensure we maintain the core services that the public expects from us,” Demkiew said in a news release following the announcement of TPS’ proposed new budget on Jan. 3.
The statement touched on a report issued by Toronto's Audit General in June, underlining a need for better response times within the force.
“My priorities as Chief include improving and earning trust in the Toronto Police Service," Demkiw continued. "On this front, the Auditor General’s report raised an important issue. Our ability to answer when the call is made is one of the fundamental commitments of policing that we must deliver on."
"The public needs to trust that the police will arrive when needed," he said.
AUDITOR GENERAL REPORT ON TPS 911 CALL CENTRE
In June, the city’s Auditor General, Beverly Romeo-Beehler, examined how TPS answered 911 calls and how the call centre operated.
From 2018 to 2021, the audit found the call centre received an average of about 5,000 calls per day, almost 3,000 of which were 911 calls.
Of the total number of calls between January 2018 and July 2021, 57 per cent of them were non-emergency calls and 10 per cent of those were for lower-priority events where imminent or potential danger was not a factor.
The call centre is run on a demand-based model, the report says, and operators are responsible for transferring to the appropriate emergency response team, dispatching police services when required, and assigning a priority level to the call.
How operators assess the priority level impacts how timely the emergency response is, based on the event type selected and whether the default priority was adjusted or not, according to the report.
Non-emergency calls are given priority ratings between four to six, based on the imminence of danger or injury.
Forty-seven per cent of all calls for service were deemed low priority in 2019, according to a breakdown of the dispatched calls.
In December, Sahar Barghian said she was “livid” after she says TPS failed to respond to an intruder trying to break into her home in a timely manner, with one officer allegedly telling her to “call the mayor” because they were short on staff.
She says officers didn't arrive at her home for more than 24 hours after the incident.
“I’m livid, because it’s 24 hours after the incident, and did the cops even try to make an attempt to come? No,” she said in a TikTok video shared on Dec. 6.
Barghian called TPS multiple times, and by her third call, she was told her report had not been listed as a “priority” since nobody at home had been injured.
“I have to go outside of my house, where the intruder is [and] I have to let him stab [...] me [...] in order for the police to come?” she asked.
In response, Stephanie Sayer, spokesperson for TPS, told CTV News Toronto the force was aware of Barghian's complaint and expressed concern.
“We’re very concerned and have reached out to discuss this with her,” Sayer said. “We don’t have anything further to add at this time.”
When reached for comment on general response times, Blue Knox, a spokesperson for the mayor's office, told CTV News Toronto that "when people call the police – whether it is 911 or a non-emergency number – the only thing they should receive is help."
At the same time, Knox acknowledged that sometimes "[police] can fall short and we know [they] take that very seriously."
"Mayor Tory has repeatedly supported reasonable increases to the Toronto Police Services budget to help keep residents safe," Knox said. "Over the years, when many, including some City Councillors, have called for the police budget to be slashed or defunded, Mayor Tory has worked to make sure the police are funded and will continue to do so, so that they can provide the kind of timely professional response they do the vast majority of the time."
AN INCREASE TO TPS BUDGET
On Jan. 3, Tory proposed a $48.3-million budget increase for TPS, which would bring the service’s 2023 budget to around $1.166 billion. In 2022, the police budget was roughly $1.118 billion, and in 2021, it was about $1.076 billion.
If approved, the investment would see 200 more officers join the force. Furthermore, TPS said in a release it would also hire 20 additional 911 communication operators.
Some condemn Tory’s choice to increase TPS’ budget.
“Any increase is irresponsible,” Beverly Bain, professor at the University of Toronto and organizer of No Pride in Policing Coalition, previously told CTV Toronto.
“Police do not protect people,” she said. “Especially racialized people.”
However, Tory says the increase will “keep Toronto safe.”
“This year’s police budget is $1.1 billion, reflecting my own and city council’s commitment to ensuring our police have the resources they need,” Tory said at a news conference announcing the budget proposal.
“I am committed to ensuring that the budget will be increased in 2023, responsibly, within our limited means, because, simply put, Torontonians are counting on our police service to keep Toronto safe.”
The TPS board approved the proposed increase, and the city’s budget is slated to go before council next month
On the potential increase, de Ilzarbe said, “That’s great, let’s see what they do with it. You can’t [just] throw money at the problem.”
-With files from CTV Toronto’s Abby O’Brien and Phil Tsekouras, and The Canadian Press