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Toronto police officer says he's 'at risk' as only cop on patrol in his division

Several Toronto police officers say they do not feel safe on the job, according to internal emails and exit interviews given to the union representing police.

Front-line police officers say in internal emails that staffing and safety are cause for concern

Toronto police officers say they do not feel safe at work, with not enough front-line officers available to respond to calls, according to internal emails. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Several Toronto police officers say they do not feel safe on the job, according to internal emails and exit interviews given to the city's police union by officers leaving the force. 

"I am tired of being out at risk while working," wrote one officer in an internal email obtained by CBC Toronto. 

"I officially (for the first time in my career) do no feel safe as a police officer, and am tired with the politics of the service and upper management," the email said.

"Our lives are on the lines, and the service doesn't care until something bad happens." 

The Toronto Police Association has confirmed the email was sent by an officer in Toronto Police's 55 Division, which spans from the Don Valley Parkway to Victoria Park Avenue and South from The Danforth to the lake. 

The officer wrote that he was the only car on patrol on a Tuesday afternoon earlier this month, with one road sergeant available for backup. During the shift he had five pending calls, including a sexual assault, an arrest involving three people, and a domestic assault.

CBC Toronto has not independently confirmed those calls.

In an internal email, an officer says police feel unsafe at work due to staffing. (Amanda Grant/CBC)

The union says the email isn't unusual; critical staffing levels are leaving many officers feeling unsafe. 

"I have never in my over 30 years with the Toronto Police Service … seen a situation like this, where morale is at an all-time low," said Mike McCormack, the association's president.

"We are past burning out, we are burned out," he said. 

Police Chief Mark Saunders said he is aware morale is low on the force, but credits growing pains as it implements a modernization strategy.

"We are moving toward a district model, and so that officer from 55 Division works in a district and that district composes of two divisions," Saunders said in an interview with CBC Toronto Tuesday.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders says part of the force's dipping morale is due to growing pains as the force moves to modernize. (Darren Calabrese/The Canadian Press)

In the district model, Saunders said, police are drawn from across the city to respond to calls, not just from within their divisions.

But McCormack says pulling from one division to fill a staffing hole in another does not solve the overall problem.

McCormack said Toronto police "work as one, so if anything is happening anywhere across the city, what resources are available to help deal with those situations?" 

The chief also said that the  force is trying to off-load low-threshold offences such as a car break-ins to tools like online reporting, so officers can focus on violent crimes. 

"When the serious crimes are occurring I would rather, as a victim of a violent act, [that] police officers be available for that than show up and take a report for a theft for under $5,000."

Frustration among officers

Still, police officers opting to leave the force say things like staffing and a lack of leadership are reasons for their decision, according to exit interviews compiled by the union.

Of the officers who said they were leaving to work with another force, 56 per cent said dissatisfaction with the direction of the Toronto Police Service was a factor. 

Internal emails show Toronto officers concerned over staffing levels for front-line officers. (John Rieti/CBC)

In one of the exit surveys obtained by CBC Toronto, an officer wrote: "Helping people is all I have ever wanted to do. TPS has made it extremely difficult for me to help anyone." 

Another said they opted to leave due to "stress cause by work overload." 

"This is putting people at risk, and that's where the buck has to stop," said the head of the police union. 

Job action possible in 2018

McCormack met with the chief and the chair of the Police Services Board on Monday to address these concerns.

"We wanted to present some reasonable solutions, but they're on a mission and they wouldn't hear it so the meeting was a waste of time," McCormack told CBC Toronto. 

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, plans to meet with members for an emergency meeting on Jan. 4. (CBC)

Wednesday afternoon, the Toronto Police Association notified its members of the discussion, calling for an emergency stewards meeting in the new year to consider next steps, including "job action." He didn't specify what form that might take. 

"We will use any means that we need to educate the public, to deal with this, because this is a crisis I believe for public safety and officer safety," said McCormack.