Q&A with Councillor Jon Burnside, a former Toronto cop who says the police board ‘needs to assert their authority.
As Toronto budget talks continue, there has been little criticism of the renewed police request for more money — their $1 billion budget is the single largest line item before councillors.
But when Councillor Jon Burnside heard police were moving ahead with promoting senior officers this week, he sent a letter blasting the police board. His letter comes after the board hired consultants from KPMG to examine police spending. Burnside argues promotions should be suspended until the board addresses KPMG’s recommendations.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Mayor John Tory, who sits on the board, said they should be “very prudent” in the number of promotions given. But he said some promotions are deserved and the board has already decided to deal with them on a “case-by-case basis.”
The Star sat down with Burnside, a former traffic cop, to ask him about the promotions and the problems with policing.
Why did you write the letter?
My concern is that everyone agrees we need transformational change at the police. Change obviously starts at the top. And on the heels of the KPMG report which specifically said — or advised — to defer any non-essential promotions, starting up the promotional process for senior officers seemed like they’re just an entrenchment of the status quo.
Why write it now?
It’s the fact that it flies right in the face of the KPMG report. When it was made available to councillors such as myself, I was asked, “Is this something that is just going to be put on the shelf.” And I said, “It’s not if I have any control of it, no.”
There are big changes recommended, including getting more officers on the street and shutting down the divisions. Do you think police brass will take the recommendations seriously?
If the promotional process is any indication, I’d say no. I’ve read the report from front to back and from what I’ve seen (shutting down divisions is) probably the most controversial. It’s got the most unknowns. It definitely needs to be studied more. But what I said when the report came out is, these suggestions are a result of looking at best practices elsewhere. And, love Toronto, but we’re not so unique that we have to do everything differently. Let’s look at what other people are doing right. Let’s look at what they’re doing wrong.
You supported Tory during the election campaign. It seems like you have some criticism for him now as a member of the board. Do you feel disenchanted with his leadership on this issue?
First of all, it’s a board decision. I don’t know what happens behind closed doors. Obviously I was a big supporter, still am. The police, the city, everything is a very complex place. So, that’s why you need councillors like myself who aren’t on boards to do some digging.
It seems like some of the criticism falls to chair Andy Pringle as well.
He did make a comment that (the KPMG report) was just a bunch of ideas, so that did concern me. I don’t know what he will or won’t do. I know he’s a very successful business person. I know the mayor has confidence in him. So I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. But please know that I will be following up on this.
You mentioned the benefit of having outside councillors, but I wonder if you have any desire to be on the police board.
It’s a good question. (Laughs). Um, if I can help the process, yes. I’m not sure if I’m better on the outside or the inside. I really would have to look at it more closely if that opportunity ever arises. It’s not something I’m personally pursuing.
There’s been a task force struck to deal with KPMG’s report. What do you think should be their first job?
Before that, I think the police services board needs to assert their authority. I think just floundering around for another year isn’t the way to go. I think there needs to be communication with the chief. Maybe there has. It doesn’t look like that’s the case. In terms of the task force, the KPMG report actually talked about short-term, medium-term and long-term. So let’s get on the short-term first. I think, ultimately, you can have as many task forces as you like, but the board and city council need to start listening and we need that political will. And I have full confidence that the mayor has that political will. But we need the political will to overcome the barriers that have been put up in the past.