The Ontario government said Tuesday it is introducing a number of new measures to boost lagging police recruitment numbers, including eliminating a post-secondary education requirement to be hired as an officer and covering the costs of mandatory training.
“We need more police officers on our streets, more boots on the ground,” Premier Doug Ford said at a news conference at the Ontario Police College. He was joined by Solicitor General Michael Kerzner and Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw.
Ford said he had heard from the chiefs of various police services, who said they are seeing increases in major crimes like auto thefts, break and enter and random acts of violence, but are struggling to attract new recruits.
The premier also said that later today, his government will introduce legislation that would amend the Community Safety and Policing Act 2019 so that a high school diploma or equivalent is “sufficient education” for the purpose of being hired as a police officer. Currently, applicants to many municipal police services need a post-secondary education credit to be considered for employment as an officer.
The province will also cover 100 per cent of the costs for Basic Constable Training at the Ontario Police College. The three-month program costs $15,450 and new police officers are required to complete it within six months of being hired.
Enrollment at the college is also being expanded. Starting in 2024, the college will be able to graduate up to four cohorts of 550 officers, up from the current three cohorts of 480 officers.
Demkiw welcomed the changes, saying that the Toronto Police Service is having difficulty “keeping up with the increasing demands” of a growing city.
“Like police services across Canada, we are working hard to recruit, select, hire and train new police constables. But this takes time and there are often barriers to getting new officers deployed and on the road,” he told reporters.
“We need support in recruiting and training and welcome the news from the province.”
NDP worried about ‘watering down’ requirements
Meanwhile, NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she was concerned about the “watering down of educational requirements.”
“What I hear from the community and from front-line officers themselves is that they want more support and more training, that they have a very difficult job and they require a lot of skills, including critical thinking, to do their jobs properly,” she said.
Municipal police forces are responsible for hiring police officers, but they are subject to budgets set out by local councils, which means there’s no guarantee there will be a hiring blitz, Stiles said.
“I think a lot of municipalities will be asking whether or not they have the capacity to even take this on,” Stiles said.
Kerzner defended the elimination of the post-secondary requirement to become an officer.
“I don’t think bringing an arts degree is necessarily the criteria to go to the Ontario Police College and to be a cadet,” he said.
“I think it’s our whole life experience that we bring to our new career, and I’m really excited that removing the barrier of a university or college degree will encourage people who have these life experiences to come forward,” Kerzner said.