TORONTO — Ontario will eliminate the post-secondary education requirement to become a police officer, expand enrolment for its basic training program and axe tuition fees at the Ontario Police College, the premier said Tuesday.
The moves are designed to get more police officers into communities, Doug Ford said.
"We need reinforcements, we need more police officers on our streets," Ford said at the Toronto Police College.
There's been a rise in auto thefts, assaults, break-and-enters and random acts of violence in Ontario over the past year, Ford said.
The province will add 140 new recruits at the Ontario Police College in 2023 and another 420 by the end of next year, he said.
Solicitor General Michael 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 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 of or college degree will encourage people who have these life experiences to come forward."
The average age of a cadet is in their late twenties, Kerzner said.
Tuition at the police college costs about $15,000 a year, he said.
The province will provide about $20 million to cover tuition over the next three years, which is when the program will be reassessed, Kerzner said. The 470 cadets who just graduated will also have their tuition covered.
Every officer in the province must attend the Ontario Police College to undergo 66 days of basic constable training.
Toronto police Chief Myron Demkiw said the changes will help recruitment efforts.
"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," Demkiw said.
"We need support in recruiting and training and will welcome the news from the province."
Toronto's police union said it was another "positive show of support" for police officers by the Ford government.
"Everywhere, services are struggling to hire police officers," said Jon Reid, president of the Toronto Police Association.
"Whether it’s the years of anti-police rhetoric, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the recent increase in violence against police officers, we are not getting the numbers we need."
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said she was concerned about the "watering down of education requirements."
"What I hear from 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.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2023.
Liam Casey and Allison Jones, The Canadian Press