Police chief insists police union’s staffing criticism 'not fair'
Chris Fox and Sumran Bhan, CTV News Toronto
Published Tuesday, July 10, 2018 2:25PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, July 11, 2018 8:03PM EDT
Police Chief Mark Saunders is fighting back against criticism from the Toronto Police Association over the need for additional officers in the wake of recent gun violence in the city.
Speaking with CTV News Toronto on Tuesday, Saunders said, despite the association’s concern, the deployment number during critical times has not been comprised.
“(The deployment number) averages about 240 officers between 10pm and 3am when the most gunplay is averaging,” Saunders said.
The police chief’s comments follow a bitter spat between Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack over the cause of the violence in Toronto.
In a CBC Radio interview on Tuesday morning, McCormack said the reduction in the number of front-line police officers, supported by Tory, has directly contributed to an increase in gun violence in Toronto.
Tory slammed the union president for the remark, accusing him of only paying “lip service” to discussing shift schedule changes that could immediately help ensure that there are more cops “where needed and when needed.”
Saunders echoed the mayor’s comments.
“City Hall has been plugged in with us. We have moved things around and we are working collectively together,” he said.
“My biggest issue that I have, and I have said this right from the start, is deployment. It is when we have the officers, where we have the officers and what they’re doing. That needs to be addressed.”
There have been about a total of 53 homicides so far this year, compared to 24 by this point last year. The five-year average for homicides as of this date is 29.3
“I think he (McCormack) tells you he is genuinely committed (to shift schedule changes) just like he has said in the last three collective agreements between the City of Toronto and the police service that he would form a committee to discuss it,” Tory said. “If you take the words of Chief Saunders, Mike McCormack has been years later coming to the table to talk about something that could have one of the biggest impacts in redeploying police officers where needed and when needed across the city.”
The Toronto Police Association is currently participating in discussions over shift schedule changes in 54 and 55 divisions but Tory said that “when the rubber hits the road,” McCormack has mostly been unwilling to discuss wholesale changes that would help the TPS ensure its officers are deployed in the right places at the right time.
Meanwhile, Tory said that McCormack has continued to blame him and Chief Saunders for gun violence rather than helping with modernization efforts that will improve the efficiency of the entire Toronto Police Service. While those efforts did include a hiring freeze for about two years, they also include other measures like utilizing civilian employees for some non-emergency neighbourhood safety incidents and getting more officers out of their cruisers and walking the beat.
“I don’t think it is very constructive to blame the mayor or the police chief for violence on the street when in fact the real issue here is resistance to modernizing and making changes that must be made in order to make sure that we have a police force that can be where it’s needed when it is needed while not pretending that the solution to that is to have ever-increasing numbers of police officers,” Tory said. “You know what, some of the worst years for crime and violent crime came at a time when there were many more police officers. If that was the answer how come that happened back then?”
There have been a series of high-profile shootings in recent months that have raised concerns across the city, including a brazen double murder on Queen Street West on June 30 and a playground shooting that injured two young sisters in Scarborough on June 14.
Speaking with CP24 on Tuesday, McCormack accused Tory of using “deflection” to shift the focus away from what has become a full-fledged “crisis.”
“That’s not going to work. We know that is not what this is about,” he said of shift schedule changes. “What this is about is 800 police officers gone over the last seven years and a modernization plan that wasn’t thought out the way it should have been and now we are reaping the impact of the modernization plan. All we are asking the mayor to do is fix it. Where is his action plan?”
Saunders has a response for that: "When you talk about the modernization plan, it’s about 32 recommendations, it’s not about one. So, when you narrow it down with what the association is doing, it’s not a fair representation.”
The city is in the process of hiring an additional 200 officers, though McCormack pointed out that only 57 have been hired so far with 17 of those slated for a fall training class.
“Even if we were to get to the 200 that he has been talking about, we won’t see them deployed until 2019. By that time we will be down 600 officers in a two-year span,” he said. “We need to have a reality check here, we need to do something and the mayor needs to take a proactive stance.”
Tory spoke with Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale about the recent rash of gun violence last week and also broached the subject during a meeting with Premier Doug Ford on Monday.
“My objective is to make sure that we all get together on this and address the issue and not play politics with it. I am trying very hard not to do that,” he told reporters on Tuesday.
Saunders and Tory are expected to announce the Toronto Police Service’s gun violence reduction plan at a news conference Thursday morning.