In February 2016, Toronto Mayor John Tory announced the formation of a Task Force to examine the pertinent issues concerning Toronto Police Service operations and the growing police budget, and develop recommendations regarding "cost containment, modernizing operations, producing real and sustainable reductions to the budget and building public trust". The group is comprised of a number of civilian and police stakeholders and undoubtedly will receive sage advice from a several affected sources.

This is a positive move, particularly during the continuous swirl around rising police costs; amid the flawed criticism that Chief Saunders hasn’t done enough to streamline the force’s budget; and when purchasing expensive technology like Body Worn Cameras and Tasers is inevitable.

The Chief inherited the current staffing model when he became Chief last year. Although I’m sure there were a variety of efficiency reviews ongoing prior to his appointment, since then, KPMG’s high-level report has been received and the Chief has publicly stated his resolve to address the budget issue. He needs to be given the opportunity to prove to his Board and to the people he serves that he is true to his commitment to tackle these complex issues.

(see Previous Article: OP-ED: The true cost of policing -- It's not as simple as you think, January 5th, 2016)

“IF” TPS can find operational efficiencies by drilling down further into KPMG’s early recommendations and other emerging best-practices that most police services in Canada are currently examining and/or implementing, and “IF” those efficiencies result in the option of a considerable decrease in staff numbers, then significant budget reductions are possible. But that will not happen overnight.

Like most police services, the overwhelming majority of TPS’ budget dollars are committed to salaries and benefits. I know during my tenure in the OPP, that piece of the pie would relate to about 85% of our total budget. Although a bit smaller, TPS is likely not much different, so they are probably sitting at $850-million plus, just to pay their employees. Then layer on the cost of their infrastructure, i.e. buildings; I.T. and radio networks; emerging technology; vehicles; fuel; uniforms; equipment; investigative costs; training; recruiting; legal fees; and a zillion other line-items that are too numerous to even contemplate, and you quickly have a billion-dollar plus budget.

Idling the cruisers less; shooting less ammo in training; or sharing pens and pencils is not going to result in huge savings. They have the option of only responding to every second call, or not answering the phone at all, but that won’t be overly acceptable to the public they serve either. Of course I’m being factitious, but let’s be realistic: the only appreciable savings to be found is in salary dollars.

But if and when realistic technological solutions and operational efficiencies – i.e. “do less of this and more of that” result in the subsequent need for less personnel, they still have to pay those reassigned people, unless they lay off or by not hiring replacement staff for employees departing through attrition to a well-deserved retirement or to some other line of work. I’m confident some of that will eventually happen, but that model will take years to fully transition to.

Of course, preventing crime, collisions and victimization are wonderful solutions that all Ontario Chiefs, including Mark Saunders, live and breathe for. But they cost money too. Those programs require “people” and strong partnerships to effectively implement, deliver and monitor. You can’t pull the people piece out – and those people have to be paid.

I sat at the same tables as municipal Chiefs, RCMP and community leaders in the various associations of Chiefs of Police and Police Services Boards. We talked more about funding and efficiency issues that we did about the emerging and morphing policing challenges that cyber-crime, terrorism and organized crime groups presented us with.

We were all steadfast in doing what was best – firstly for our communities, and secondly for the men and women within our services. We were also committed to share ideas and lessons-learned. In fact 3 or 4 years ago, we discussed the very ideas and criticisms that arose through the media coverage regarding Deputy Peter Sloly’s public comments and his subsequent departure.

Unfortunately the collective will that Ontario’s police leaders share and all of their efforts to get to that police funding panacea, isn’t mentioned when so-called experts point fingers and profess that immediate change is required.

I’m not saying that TPS currently has the perfect policing model and is as effective and efficient as possible to meet their operational realities and budget pressures. Nor is Chief Saunders saying that. The same can be said for ALL police services and their leaders in my view. That would include me – during my time at the helm of the OPP.

But I can say this: The public should be confident that their Chiefs and Commissioners are all committed to doing what is right and are trying their best as we speak. They will all get there in varying degrees, including Chief Saunders, over time. The proof will eventually be in the pudding as they say, but it won’t be tomorrow.

Chris Lewis served as Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police from 2010 until he retired in 2014. He can be seen regularly on CTV and CP24 giving his opinion as a public safety analyst.