Police Chief Mark Saunders is dismissing suggestions that morale is at an “all-time low” among front-line officers, calling it a union “soundbite” that isn’t rooted in reality.

Saunders made the comment to CP24 on Tuesday morning; one day after the Toronto Police Association launched a campaign to oppose ongoing cuts to the number of uniformed officers that are part of a wider initiative to modernize the police service.

The campaign was accompanied by a memo in which TPA President Mike McCormack advised officers to take the steps to “de-stress,” including taking their lunch breaks and limiting the use of personal cellphones for work purposes.

“It sounds like a soundbite I have heard before,” Saunders said of McCormack’s complaints. “When you look at the modernization piece there are a lot of moving parts to it. It has nothing to do with just cutting off the number of officers. It talks about utilizing technology, it talks about working partnerships with other stakeholders to make the city safer and it talks about a whole host of other things which we are in the process of doing.”

The 2017 police budget saw the number of deployed uniformed officers drop from 5,224 to 5,072.

The TPS also plans to further reduce the compliment of uniformed officers through attrition. The target of uniformed cops for 2018 is 4,912 and the target for 2019 is 4,767.

Speaking with CP24 on Tuesday, McCormack said that the TPS is facing a “crisis” due to “inadequate staffing” that has brought about officer burnout.

He said that of the 95 uniformed officers to resign so far this year, virtually all of them mentioned “morale, working conditions, advancement issues or the lack of management concerns about what is going on at the front line” in exit interviews they did with the union.

“We as police officers are very dedicated but we have now reached a crisis or breaking point,” he said. “We have talked to the chief about it, we have talked to the mayor, we have talked to the police board but it has fallen on deaf ears.”

McCormack told CP24 that his opposition to cuts in uniformed personnel is “not a soundbite as the chief said.”

Saunders, however, told CP24 that the cuts are not taking away uniformed officers from where they are needed most. The wider effort to modernize the TPS includes plans to utilize civilian employees for some “non-emergency neighbourhood safety incidents” and to merge some divisions.

“I can tell you right now that in recent months I have provided not tens or dozens but hundreds of extra front line officers to assist with the pressures at peak times in the city,” Saunders said.

Police forbidden from walking off job

Police are considered an essential service and are therefore forbidden from participating in a strike. Though the campaign from the Toronto Police Association could amount to a work-to-rule initiative, the union is not calling it a job action.

McCormack refused to speculate on what will come next while speaking with CP24 but said residents should “stay tuned,”

“We aren’t going away,” he said. “We want to resolve this.”

Meanwhile, Mayor John tory told reporters at a launch for the Toronto Caribbean Carnival that McCormack’s complaints may be “misdirected.”

He said that the TPA should be pushing for changes at Queen’s Park that will allow the TPS to utilize civilian employees for non-emergency functions, such as responding to noise complaints or directing traffic.

“Relieving the pressure on police officers has a lot more to do with things they could be doing at Queen’s Park than it does with anything he might point to at city hall,” Tory said.

For his part, Saunders said he does not believe that his officers will be participating in any formal labour action and isn’t worried about a potential impact on public safety.

“All I know is that when the city and people call for help police officers are going to be there,” he said.