This past week saw the release of the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Transformational Task Force report “The Way Forward: Modernizing Community Safety in Toronto.” Opponents immediately weighed in, including former Toronto mayor and current member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, John Sewell.
"There's no sense that anything is really being accomplished," Sewell said.
Toronto Police Association (TPA) President Mike McCormack was critical as well, as he has been over the past weeks, in part through the TPA’s media campaign to “Stop the Toronto Police Cuts”. When pressed by Newstalk 1010 morning host John Moore, McCormack suggested that the plan to deploy officers from quieter areas of the city to policing hot spots (i.e. areas with increasing gun violence), will put the public and officers at risk.
Chief Saunders staunchly defends the transformational strategy, promising that he would never agree to a plan that would put the community or his members in greater jeopardy.
Change is inevitable. The status quo is yesterday’s news. Business and police leaders must constantly analyze the environment and continuously reshape to the needs of our rapidly changing world; otherwise they will fall behind or completely fail.
TPS has not undergone significant change in decades. New units like TAVIS came and went, technology evolved, but the basic divisional structure and staff deployment methodology – including what officers will respond to and how, have largely remained unchanged. At the same time most police services have been developing and implementing strategies to better meet community needs AND to reduce costs, given rising police salaries and technology expenses. The previous models were felt to be largely unsustainable without a significant influx of funding, at a time when there is no new money floating around most municipalities. Citizen self-reporting; doing more of this, less of that and none of other things; more flexible shift schedules; as well as tried and true prevention approaches like “Community Mobilization,” continue to evolve.
Chief Saunders is not going to put the city or TPS officers in peril. He knows the city and how to police it very well, through his decades of experience. I have no doubt that the TPA executive does too, and if they weren’t consulted throughout this process, they should have been. To get organizational buy-in to change, people need to understand the “why” and preferably have a say in the what, when and how.
However, the TPA views staffing from a different perspective than the Chief. Their primary concerns are membership numbers and officer safety. They also know that taking a public posture that TPS has sufficient personnel will likely not lead to re-election.
The Chief certainly has to consider officer safety as well. I’m sure it keeps him awake at night, as it did me during my tenure as OPP commissioner. Policing can be a dangerous calling and it is vital for leaders to ensure officers return safely to their families at the end of their shifts. He would never unreasonably jeopardize their safety through policy decisions. However, he has to consider public safety as his first priority. If officer safety was the primacy, he would never allow officers to leave the stations and put themselves in harm’s way as they bravely carry out their duties.
Chief Saunders also knows that although TPS is a great organization, something has to change. The city has changed. Officer salaries have changed. There's no new money. He has to balance all of that while ensuring the TPS is as operationally and fiscally efficient as possible. He can never go forward to his Board down the road to seek additional funding and personnel unless he can demonstrate that he is receiving the best bang out of every budget dollar he has. That is the fiscal reality that comes with the turf.
The OPP has been going through years of similar transformational change. In addition to the immense reorganization they underwent in the early 1990s, they have been adapting to meet current and relative policing and budgetary realities for several years. Plans to close some detachments; “borderless policing” whereby resources are not hamstrung by detachment and regional boundaries; better use of enabling technology; analysis based officer deployment strategies and shift-scheduling to ensure the right resources are in the right places at the right times; and much more, continue to emerge from the OPP and many other police services. TPS and TPA leaders are not facing these issues in isolation.
Throwing more officers at problem areas is not the answer in the long-term. But does it not make sense that when additional officers are required to meet short-term response and visibility needs in one area of the city that they be deployed there from areas that aren’t as busy? The same scenario could emerge in reverse the very next week. Obviously TPS decision-makers have to ensure that the divisions they are borrowing from aren’t left dangerously shorthanded, but maximizing the use of available on-duty officers is not unheard of in any police service that I’m aware of.
The strategies identified in this report make sense. Toronto city leaders and residents have to rely on the experience and judgement of their police chief and the team that developed it. The proof will be in the pudding (or not), during the analytical processes that will follow transition. In the meantime, negative commentary and pushback by former politicians and the police union won’t help the effective implementation of the change required, nor will it give Torontonians confidence in this difficult process.
Former British PM Harold Wilson once said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay.” I believe in that. Let’s give Chief Saunders a chance to do what he feels is right. If it doesn’t work, he’ll fix it.