Toronto police Chief Bill Blair is recommending the police service have its budget frozen in 2015 and the number of uniform officers reduced by 43.
If the board approves the freeze, it will be the first time in 10 years the police budget has been flat-lined, assuring an early political victory for John Tory, who will be sworn in as mayor on Dec. 2, 2014.
It’s an annual fight for the city’s mayor to try to control police spending. This year the budget has ballooned to $1 billion. In the past, Blair asked council to increase the police budget, leading to a highly publicized showdown with Mayor Rob Ford. That’s something it appears Tory will now avoid.
“Mayor-elect Tory would like to congratulate city staff, the Toronto Police Services Board, senior management of the Toronto Police Service and the Toronto Police Association who have worked collaboratively to deliver this great result,” spokesperson Amanda Galbraith said in an email.
The civilian oversight board will consider Blair’s request next week. He’s asking the board to approve the force’s 2015 net operating request of $957.76 million — which is a 0 per cent increase over the 2014 budget.
The chief is also asking the board to approve a reduction of 43 uniform officers to 5,462 officers while increasing civilian staff by 56 to 2,218.
The board released the figures Thursday in the agenda for next week’s meeting — at the same time taking the unusual step of launching a “bargaining website” just days before contract talks are set to begin.
The website says there “needs to be a break” in the cycle of pay increases “far exceeding” those received by other municipal and private sector workers. The public and media are paying “close attention” to the escalating cost of policing,” the website says.
The current contract expires Dec. 31. Labor negotiations are scheduled to begin next week. Almost 90 per cent of Toronto’s police budget is needed to fulfill salary obligations.
The board is “hopeful” it will achieve a negotiated collective agreement with the Toronto Police Association “that is fair to our officers and reflects the capacity to pay of Toronto’s taxpayers,” the website says.
The association is “deeply disappointed” about the website and the “opportunistic grandstanding” of board chairman Alok Mukherjee, said TPA president Mike McCormack.
“This is nothing more than a politically motivated move, one which can only be detrimental to the collective bargaining process, the public and the police service,” McCormack said in a statement sent to police divisions across the city.
In the past, police labor negotiations have created difficulties for previous mayors, including David Miller.
Ford avoided those difficulties after the board gave the association an 11.4 per cent pay hike over four years. That increase led to nearly 40 per cent of Toronto police officers earning more than $100,000 last year.
In 2004, just 250 officers on the city’s police payroll earned more than $100,000.
McCormack noted Mukherjee has been a board member since 2005 and has “signed off personally” on all the wage settlements.
In addition to salaries and benefits, officers earn extra money working “paid duty” shifts on construction sites, film shoots and other events. Earlier this year, the issue exploded when it was revealed that officers pocketed close to $30 million in extra cash. A preliminary report on paid duty will be considered by the board next week.
There are other perks. Police officers who flash their badge ride free on the TTC and on GO Transit — regardless of whether they are on or off duty. Toronto Police spokesman Mark Pugash said there is a quid pro quo — and that if any trouble arises on public transit an officer will intervene.