Police Chief Mark Saunders is dismissing a “a so-called” vote of non-confidence by members of the Toronto Police Association as 'election year' politics while conceding that it does suggest that he needs to do a better job of explaining the logic behind efforts to modernize the service.

Saunders made the comment to CP24 during a one-on-one interview on Friday morning; one day after the Toronto Police Association announced that 86 per cent of members who participated in an online vote said they have “no confidence” in their chief.

About 48.1 per cent of TPA members participated in the vote, which was held amid a protracted battle between the union and senior management over the long-term transformational task force plan.

“I am taking this whole thing in context. This is an election year and they (the TPA) have gone behind the scene and created the playbook for their 30, 60 and 90 day plans, whatever it is, and this is nothing more than that,” Saunders said on Friday. “The so-called vote, I don’t know the mechanics behind it nor do I care. But what I will take out of this whole thing is that it is necessary to speak more about the direction that we are moving in, the modernization piece, why we are doing it and why it is necessary.”

Union has complained about cuts

The transformational task force plan calls for a “culture change,” within the TPS, which would make neighbourhood policing a top priority and place an increased emphasis on technology.

The TPA has said that it is in favour of some parts of the plan but at the same time has engaged in a war of words with Saunders, Mayor John Tory and the police services board over efforts to reduce the size of the force.

Speaking with CP24 on Friday, Saunders said he is working to redistribute some officers to ensure that there is the right number of personnel in the right places but he said the union is making that job more difficult.

The TPA has said that there are 577 fewer officers than there were in 2010, though the TPS did end a three-year hiring freeze prematurely in August in order to bring in 80 new cadets.

“The association says they support modernization and yet their actions are totally inconsistent with that,” Saunders said. “They are responsible for sitting at the table when it comes to shift scheduling and that is my big issue right now. I need to have more officers in the right place at the right time but as chief I don’t have that opportunity. That is between the board and the association.”

Board has backed chief

The vote of non-confidence is symbolic as Saunders can only be removed from his job by the Toronto Police Services board, which on Thursday released a statement in which they said that they “fully and unequivocally support” the chief.

On Friday, Saunders said that he now realizes that “something is missing” when it comes to efforts to explain ongoing efforts to modernize the service to members.

He said that his command and senior officers are now “taking an active and more engaged approach” to make sure front-line officers have a better understanding of what modernization entails and why it is necessary.

“We have to really start shifting things over and say ‘Why are we doing certain things?’ Why do we have a highly trained officer sitting at a homicide scene at an apartment outside on a stool for maybe five weeks?” he said. “I can have other resources more economically doing the exact same thing and have those highly-trained officers where they are needed most. That is what we are doing.”