A war of words has erupted between Mayor John Tory and the head of the Toronto Police Association following the publication of a full-page ad which seems to blame Tory for the wait times some residents have encountered when calling 911.

The ad, which was published by the Toronto Star on Tuesday morning, depicts a smiling Tory in between Police Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andrew Pringle with the words, “These guys are putting your safety on hold” superimposed over a graphic in which “911” is spelled out in blood.

The ad also contains the words “Toronto police 911: please hold, your call will be answered by the next available operator.”

Speaking with reporters about the ad on Tuesday, Tory conceded that there have been some issues with callers to 911 being put on hold of late but he said that efforts are already underway to address those issues, including the recent hiring of 20 new employees to “supplement the ranks” at the 911 dispatch centre.

“The notion to me that the way you deal with this is to put an ad in the newspaper showing people laughing while blood is splattered behind them is beyond comprehension,” he said. “It is a throwback to the old days of the way police union bosses acted and I just don’t want to be part of it. I have my job to do and I will continue to do it the way that I do which I hope is responsibly and respectfully.”

TPA President Mike McCormack told CP24 earlier on Tuesday that 911 callers have been regularly put on hold for “minutes and not seconds” for months now.

He said that union leadership has been attempting to address the issue with Tory, Saunders and Pringle but have seen their pleas fall on deaf ears.

“They have been placating and putting it off and saying don’t worry we will do another review,” he said. “It is time for action.”

McCormack said that the issue facing the 911 dispatch centre is just part of a wider problem facing the Toronto Police Service as a whole.

He said that senior leadership at the TPS has rushed to reduce the number of front-line officers as part of an ongoing modernization effort without making the necessary investments in technology and other infrastructure that were supposed to accompany the cuts.

“We lost 232 uniformed officers last year and we have lost 75 so far this year,” he said. “The fix is to staff appropriately, get your infrastructure, get everything prepared and then staff down to a model that makes sense for the type of policing you are doing.”

McCormack said that the morale among front-line officers has “tanked” and that action needs to be taken to address what he said has become a “crisis in policing.”

Tory, however, pointed out that the TPS did end their hiring freeze one year earlier than scheduled in August, following complaints from the police association. He said that 80 constables were also hired in the final months of 2017.

“I had been carrying on what I thought were very constructive discussions with Mr. McCormack,” he said.

Tory and McCormack attend roundtable meeting

In the wake of the controversial ad, Tory and McCormack both attended a public roundtable meeting on Tuesday evening.

The meeting was held to address the ongoing modernization of the TPS. It was held at the Rexdale Community Hub, which is located at 21 Panorama Court.

Speaking with CP24 outside of the meeting, McCormack said community members he spoke with at the roundtable said they are looking for a more personal connection with police officers in their communities.

“I heard from many members of the community that they would like to see a more personal interaction with our police officers,” he said. “They basically spoke about community-based policing and the importance of police officers within the communities and having police officers there and having a non-traditional relationship with police where it’s not about enforcement, it’s about them being part of the community.”

McCormack added that he attended the roundtable discussion to reinforce the message displayed on the union’s ad.

“(I’m here) to make sure the mayor is being honest with the public in the communities and talking about the realities of policing. It is really important and the mayor has a responsibility to the public to talk about what is going on and to talk about it in a very straightforward way.”

Responding to McCormack’s statements while speaking with CP24 in Rexdale on Tuesday night, Tory said police officers are working towards addressing issues brought up by the public, including 911 call wait times.

“I think people really want to see the police in the community more – not just enforcing the law, which they want, but they want to get to know the police officers better,” Tory said. “They were saying that you trust people that you know.”

“I have been historically speaking very well with Mr. McCormack, he’s a very well informed person when it comes to policing but he’s a union president and he has a job to do and I think this ad was over the top. The ad was very disappointing to me. He should be speaking with us to fix these problems and saving their money from those ads.

Tuesday night’s roundtable meeting was the first of eight scheduled throughout the city for 2018.