Toronto police are officially moving in a new direction when it comes to how they do their job.
The Police Services Board rubber stamped the Transformational Task Force report on Thursday, which is supposed to be a blueprint for modernizing the police service.
There are 34 recommendations in all in the report and they are supposed to chop $100-million from the police budget which topped one billion dollars for the first time last year.
It proposes closing divisions, a hiring and promotions freeze, and putting officers back walking the beat and staying in communities for at least three years.
It also proposes a change in how police respond to calls. Using a triage system, officers would respond to emergencies, civilians might respond to non-emergencies or complaints may even be handled online.
Chief Mark Saunders says he understands the skepticism this report will be fully implemented and not gather dust. He is optimistic this is going to make a significant change.
“We have an actual tool that is based on objective content. We can now use that to be more intelligence-led in our model delivery and have an idea on how we can anticipate, how we can look at crime prevention and offer a whole host of different opportunities of being efficient, being better and more effective in our delivery model.”
Mayor John Tory also believes that change will happen as a result of the report.
“The police officers today are as well educated as ever, as highly trained as ever. I don’t think they entered a career in policing to sit and watch people turn left at intersections or watch a radar gun sitting on a street. They want to do police work that really makes a huge difference in the community.”
However, all of this requires a massive cultural change and its going to need the police union to be on board as well.
“Can the union scuttle the Transformational Task Force? We definitely have a role to play if the service wants to make these types of changes,” said Toronto Police Association boss Mike McCormack, who has called the report nothing more than a cost cutting exercise.
“They need our membership to buy in. They need some commitment from the association. There are some aspects of the report – whether its new deployment model, staffing model, shift model – that they’re going to need the association to participate in to fully realize their plan.”
As CityNews first reported on Wednesday, the union is filing a grievance with the police service over redeployment of officers from one division to another when extra support is needed. The union claims emptying a division to help another is a safety risk.
“Right now in the average division in downtown Toronto and throughout the city we’re only putting out three-to-five police vehicles,” said McCormack. “So when we’re redeploying people and providing band-aid solutions that doesn’t give us confidence in the Transformational Task Force saying we’re going to have more community based policing.”
McCormack also points to a recent Toronto Police Association survey which shows morale among front line officers is at an all-time low.
Out of 1,250 officers surveyed at the end of 2016, half of the respondents say their overall morale is negative.
Seventy-one percent point to the task force report as having a negative impact on their morale.
Only 23 percent agree or strongly agree that they’re optimistic about their future success with the Toronto Police Service.
McCormack says while morale has been an issue in the past, there has been a significant drop in officer’s attitudes this year compared to previous years.
“What we’re experiencing is officer burnout, officer fatigue, they’re bouncing around from call to call,” he said. “That is a big concern for us because we are public servants, we work with the public, it adds to officer stress, adds stress to interactions with the public.”