Chief Mark Saunders was confronted outside police headquarters Monday by the wife of one of his officers, concerned about her husband’s safety.

“I’m here today because my husband’s life is at risk every time he goes to work,” Jelena Leung told the chief, while surrounded by news cameras capturing their exchange. “I see the state he comes home in every day. I see the state he goes to work. If you’re telling me that’s not an officer safety concern, that’s not a public safety concern, then I’m not sure who you’re listening to. That’s why we’re here today, sir. We’re gathering here as families to tell you how big of an impact it’s having. It is a risk.”

Leung was taking part in a Family Day demonstration organized by police families and supported by the Toronto Police Association in order to draw attention to the fact that many officers say they feel overworked.  

“I’m always concerned about officer safety,” Saunders responded. “If you look at our numbers, I clearly show that and prove that through the numbers as well.”

Saunders said the police service has added frontline resources “because we are listening” and that he has visited every police station in the city to speak with staff as the force works to implement a modernization plan.

“It’s been a frustrating year because of the implementation piece. But now we’re in action mode. We’re starting to push things out there that are tangible – connected officers, deployment of districts, realigning our resources a lot better,” Saunders said.

Leung said she supports efforts to modernize the force, but she wants to make sure that officers like her husband remain safe.

“I do not feel safe. He’s coming home exhausted every single day, he’s going to work exhausted every single day – that’s what I hope you and I can address,” she said.

During the encounter, the chief agreed to have a private meeting with Leung, though a date has not yet been set.

Speaking with CP24 afterward, Leung said she’s pleased that the chief agreed to the meeting.

“I do appreciate that he did come out. It shows that he’s willing to work with us,” she said. “I’m incredibly happy. I think we raised the right awareness and we came together when it meant the most.”

The protest comes in the context of an ongoing conflict between the police association and the chief over a perceived staffing shortage amid a plan to modernize the force. In recent months, the TPA has taken out billboards on the Gardiner Expressway vilifying the chief, as well as Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andrew Pringle.

The ads suggest slow 911 response times and picture the three laughing next to text that says “These guys are putting your safety on hold.

The association has also taken out full-page newspaper ads and launched a symbolic online vote of non-confidence in the chief.

Speaking to CP24 after the protest Monday, TPA President Mike McCormack said he thinks it’s appropriate to continue pressuring Saunders, Tory and Pringle because the TPA is acting as “the canary in the coalmine.”

“The lack of staffing is having a negative impact on our police morale, the families, our civilian morale,” McCormack said. “It is having an impact on their well-being, their wellness and it is creeping into their families. It is something that is concerning to us and it should be concerning to the public as well.”

He added that the current pressures associated with short staffing “go way beyond” the stresses that police signed up for as part of the job.

“That was exactly her (Leung’s) point. We as spouses of police signed up and we know what it’s about,” McCormack said. “We’re not asking ‘oh, feel bad.’ No. We know what we got into, we know what we signed up for. But this goes way beyond just doing the job.”