Reducing the size of Toronto police force

Bulletin of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition

By John Sewell –

This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving. Our website is
In this issue:
1. Reducing the size of the Toronto police force
2. Death of Sergeant Ryan Russell
3. Making crisis intervention work
4. A 10th birthday for TPAC

1. Reducing the size of the Toronto police force.

In a surprise move, Toronto police chief Bill Blair has recommended that the police force not replace officers who leave the force in 2011. This will reduce the number of officers by 225 by the end of the year, from 5600 to 5375.

The decision follows a raucous debate in the media about whether the Toronto force is over staffed. John Sewell wrote an open letter to Mayor Rob Ford in the Toronto Star titled `Lots of gravy in bloated police budget,’ around the idea that Ford said he was elected to Stop the Gravy Train, and the police budget offered many opportunities. (See–lots-of-gravy-in-bloated-police-budget )
Retired Toronto police superintendent Gary Grant replied with an extraordinary rant in the Toronto Sun titled `John Sewell, cop-hater.’ See, an attack that was so over-the top that Sewell was given the space of a reply (see Mike McCormack, head of the Toronto Police Association entered the fray with his thoughts in the Star, (see–simplistic-criticism-of-police-twists-facts .)

On January 5, the chief proposed a  budget of $914 million, an increase of 3% over 2010 which did not include the wage increase (still to be negotiated for 2011) which will add a further 2 -3 per cent.  City staff had requested all departments to present a budget 5% less than in 2010 – that would have meant a budget of $840 million for police – but Blair said he didn’t think that was possible, and did not draft anything that reflected city instructions.

Then followed a meeting between the chief and the mayor on January 10. It ended all smiles, but no announcement until the next day when Blair said he agreed to not replace retiring officers.

The savings for 2011 are relatively small, $7.6 million, which means the police are being given a budget that is 2% more than in 2010, not including the wage increase. Once again, police are given far more financial resources than any other city service, and asked far fewer questions.

But the impact in 2012 is considerable – 225 fewer officers on the force will result in a saving of $25 million next year since it costs about $100,000 per officer for salary benefits and supplies.

More importantly, the reduction in the number of officers signals a shift in what policing in Toronto might be.  The Police Services Board has the opportunity to explore innovative strategies, and rethink how policing is delivered and how police work is done, particularly since the collective agreement is up for renegotiation.

It could rethink the three daily shift arrangements of 10 hours, 10 hours, and eight hours. It means police are paid to work 28 hours during every 24 hour period, hardly an efficient way to spend money. Changing to three shifts of eight hours each day would mean each officer would be available for work a few more days each month, resulting in savings close to $90 million a year.

It could rethink two-man cars after dark, a requirement imposed on Toronto by an arbitrator forty years ago. It is not clear that two-man cars increases safety for officers, and other forces – the RCMP, for instance – do not use two man cars. Why not experiment with one man cars in some areas after dark?

It could rethink general patrol. One famous study showed that dispensing with patrol and just responding to calls, had no adverse impact on the crime rate or on community feelings of safety and security. Replacing patrol with officers working five days a week for a six month placement in defined neighbourhoods might produce better results all round.

Whether the Board and the service will agree to experiment to use resources more creatively during the year remains to be seen.

2. Death of Sergeant Ryan Russell

The news about the police budget was considerably overshadowed by the death the next morning of Sgt. Ryan Russell. He was killed on duty while trying to stop a stolen snow plow.

It was clearly a tragic event, as is any on-the-job death, particularly of a 35-year-old father with a wife and young child. The media quickly moved into high gear and Russell’s death became the major news item for the next six days.  The police closed the section of Avenue Road at Davenport, where the incident occurred, for more than 24 hours causing major traffic disruption in the downtown and ensuring the incident was top-of-mind for all Toronto residents.

The funeral six days later verged on being a state occasion. More than 10,000 officers from Toronto and from forces across the continent marched down University Avenue from College Street to the Convention Centre on Front Street while a silent and respectful crowd lined the route. Russell’s widow made a touching and heartfelt speech at the funeral itself.

One had the sense that this sad event was being used by police authorities to re-establish the dominance of the power of the police in Toronto six months after their distressing activities during the G 20 meeting at the end of June. This large show of force may also have overshadowed the death of the officer.

3. Making crisis intervention work

TPAC has been a strong advocate of police procedures which protect those in mental crisis, particularly by the police employing methods which recognize that attempting to dominate and control every situation can often lead to tragedy. We have supported the crisis intervention team approach which pairs a plain clothes officer and a mental health nurse; the function of the team is to de-escalate a situation where someone is found to be in a crisis, and we have asked that the Toronto model, the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, be expanded to all divisions within the city 24 hours a day. Currently they appear to be in more than half the divisions about half the time. The police say they favour the roll out, although not on a full-time basis, but say that the hospitals find it difficult to fund the nurses.

It appears there are problems with the Toronto model apart from the funding question.  In Toronto, first response officers on their shifts attending a scene do not liaise with the Mobile Unit until after other officers have secured the situation, saying that `security’ is the top consideration. This procedure exists even when officers are checking the bail compliance of a person known to have previous mental health incidents.

Yet as we have seen in several recent situations, this means the team is sometimes there too late for effective intervention. One wonders why the security of the person in crisis is not the top consideration.

In areas around Toronto, the crisis intervention team often works by different rules. In both Hamilton and Durham region, the teams are often first responders. It makes sense as the police deal with more and more cases involving people in crisis that a change of policy is needed in Toronto so that the resources best able to deal successfully with these situations – the crisis interventions teams – are called in immediately.

4. A 10th birthday for TPAC

Toronto Police Accountability Coalition was formed in March 2001, ten years ago. The process began after three dozen individuals held several meetings to talk about what kind of group could address police issues on a continuing basis.  It was noted that groups which had focused on complaints against he police found they did not have the resources to investigate the many complaints they received, and that some other approach was needed. Hence the idea of focusing on policing policy.

The first issue the group dealt with was the manner in which police behaved during demonstrations. Premier Mike Harris and the Conservative Party of Ontario held a large meeting at the Convention Centre, and given the Tory policies, there were large demonstrations. The police played a strong and partisan role attacking demonstrators.

Here we are ten years later, still dealing with the way police behave at demonstrations.