'Absolutely wrong' to suggest police staffing issues endangering public, chief says

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunder said Monday that it’s “absolutely wrong” to suggest that the force’s ongoing modernization has put the public at risk due to staffing shortages.

'We are sharing resources a lot more than ever before,' says Mark Saunders of modernization push

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said on Monday that as the force's modernization push continues, resources will be more efficiently distributed throughout the city. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunder said Monday that it is "absolutely wrong" to suggest that the force's ongoing modernization has put the public at risk due to staffing shortages.

"First and foremost I would never sign up for something that would compromise the safety of my officers or the safety of the community," Saunders said in an interview with Metro Morning.

He added that the ongoing effort to modernize how police operate is meant to ensure that highly trained officers can focus on priority calls instead of "doing absolutely everything."

Last week, CBC Toronto published an interview with a 20-year veteran of the force who said that staffing levels are "dangerously low," leaving frontline officers feeling vulnerable and endangering the public. It has also resulted in a marked drop in morale among officers, the staff sergeant explained.

He said that often times when a call comes in, dispatchers must rely on officers from other divisions to handle the situation. Or, in some extreme cases, there are no officers to send at all.

Saunders bluntly refuted that characterization, saying that the officer who spoke up may not understand "all the moving parts" involved with modernization.

"I can tell you that is not the norm. That is not even close to the norm with how we do business," he said.

"We are sharing resources a lot more than ever before," Saunders continued, adding that until recently there was a mentality among officers to stay within the boundaries of their own divisions.

"We're all Toronto police officers, so wherever things happen that's where we need to be."

'Officers guarding broken water mains'

Saunders also suggested that resources that are already available to the force will be used more efficiently as the modernization process matures. Last year, for example, frontline officers spent some 47,000 hours dealing with low-priority calls involving people living with mental illness, and some 10,000 doing crossing guard duties, according to Saunders.

"In the cold spell, we had officers guarding broken water mains," he explained.

Eventually, special constables or civilians will take on the lion's share of low-priority duties, freeing up frontline officers.

The force has committed to hiring 80 new officers by the end of this year, but Saunders said that hiring any more would simply result in a lot of officers doing things "they shouldn't be doing" as highly trained operators.

As for reports that morale is at a nearly all-time low, Saunders pointed to other forces around North America to contend that the issue "has to do a lot" with a changing discourse between communities and police.

"And there are a lot of things that need to be done to enhance that," he told host Matt Galloway.

With files from Metro Morning