Toronto police union head balks at parts of reform plan

Mike McCormick

Its an ambitious plan to dramatically overhaul what its authors call Torontos outdated and reactive model of policing, as well as save $100-million in costs over the next three years. But it could face a fight from the citys combative police union.

Among the sweeping recommendations of the Transformational Task Force is a call for a three-year hiring and promotion freeze that is expected to save $60-million. But Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack warns that it will also result in as many as 1,000 fewer officers on the force, which currently has about 5,235.

Right now our front-line police officers are going from call to call, they dont have any time to do any proactive policing, Mr. McCormack told reporters on Thursday, after the task force report was officially unveiled at police headquarters. To me, it looks like a cost-cutting measure.

While he said he supported moves to give officers better technology and allow them to spend more time on the street, he questioned the notion in the report that a large number of non-emergency calls could be diverted to a Web portal: Is this going to become self-service policing? Take a number, get in line? Is that what we are coming down to?

Mr. McCormack said his association was still studying the details of the report, and he did not threaten to take any sort of job action. (Police are not allowed to strike, but they can launch work-to-rule campaigns.)

Were going to adjust and we will react accordingly to these recommendations, he said.

Only two of the reports proposals actually call for changes to clauses embedded in the police unions collective agreement. One is a review of the forces shift structure, which currently restricts the ability of police commanders to deploy different numbers of officers at different times. The other is a review of rules that require two officers in every police cruiser. Mr. McCormack said he is willing to discuss both of those issues.

Police Chief Mark Saunders, who co-chaired the task force, and Mayor John Tory, who called for the task force after a battle erupted over the forces $1-billion budget earlier this year, both say they expect the Toronto Police Association and its members to see the merits in the report, which promises a sweeping set of changes to policing. Public consultations will take place before a final report is delivered in December.

I am not going to describe it as a fight, Mr. Tory said in an interview. I hope what there is, is a spirited discussion about these issues, and that Mr. McCormack and his members will come to the table. … I am quite willing to listen to them.

He said the police union was initially part of the task forces consultations as it drafted the report, but that the TPA then dropped out.

The task force report makes 24 recommendations, in addition to the call for a three-year freeze on hiring and promotions. It also proposes:

– merging the forces 54 and 55 Divisions, and exploring similar moves for another five divisions.

– exploring alternate service delivery for court security, parking enforcement, lifeguards and crossing guards.

– equipping officers with portable devices and apps to reduce their need to be in their cars at their current mobile workstations.

– improving the services use of big data to better deploy officers.

– disbanding the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), which the report says had unintended impacts on communities, especially among racialized youth who felt unfairly targeted.

– developing a risk-assessment tool to redirect non-emergency calls to other agencies, and allow citizens to report non-emergency crimes online or over the phone.

– training select mall security guards as special constables, allowing them to process and release arrested individuals.

– disbanding the transit patrol unit.

– installing traffic cameras in school zones.

– redesigning the 17-division structure and drawing new boundaries, while testing a system that would automatically dispatch the nearest officers to a call.