Police chief Blair fires back in budget showdown

Toronto police chief Bill Blair is firing back at detractors who say he must cut 10 per cent of the force's expenses – or risk losing his job.

Toronto police chief Bill Blair is firing back against demands from the mayor's office to cut 10 per cent of the force's budget or risk losing his job.

Coun. Michael Thompson, vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, has suggested that Blair's own job may hang in the balance if he fails to meet the required budget goals, which Mayor Rob Ford has asked all city departments to make.

Blair balked at the required cuts and instead asked for a 1.5 per cent budget increase in 2012. In an interview on CBC's Metro Morning, he argued that the city's 11.5 per cent wage increase for officers, to be phased in over four years, puts a roughly $25-million strain on the force's bottom line.

Blair argued that contract, which Thompson helped negotiate, hampers his ability to cut costs.

"My job is to manage the police service. My job is not to fulfill Mr. Thompson’s agenda, quite frankly," he said. "It is to police the city and I’m doing that the very best I can."

Ford and Blair meet

After a meeting with Ford on Monday, Blair said he'll continue to work with the mayor's office but he won't compromise Torontonians' safety.

"We're still trying to find efficiencies ... but I should also say that as the chief of police, I have a responsibility to provide adequate and effective policing services," he said. "That language actually comes right out of the Police Services Act."

Ford is also sticking by his call for a 10 per cent cut, but when reporters asked if he'd demand the cut — even if it meant fewer officers — he sidestepped the question.  

"The chief understands the challenges that we face as a city ... I have confidence in our board and the chief to find the efficiencies that I've asked all the departments to find," he said. 

The lion's share of the police budget goes toward labour costs. Blair argued that he would have to cut jobs to meet Ford's 10 per cent reduction target — a move that could bring his force out of line with service standards set by the Ontario Civilian Police Commission.

"I have no ability to cut beyond where I can within the law," said Blair, who has made other concessions, such as freezing hires for another year and reducing his management structure.

He brushed aside allegations that he is fear mongering, and maintains that a reduction in the force would take a negative toll on the city.

Costs can come down without crime going up: critics

The chair of the Toronto police services board, the independent civilian body that oversees police management, denied Blair has been backed into a corner.

"I am not personally persuaded that reduction in the cost of policing will necessarily result in inadequate policing," said police board chairman Alok Mukherjee.

"I think one reaches that conclusion only if one wants to maintain the way things were."

Mukherjee has offered his own proposals to pare down the budget, and argues that the cuts are possible without threats to public safety. He recommends reducing the number of senior officers, expanding the freeze on hiring, and offering buyout packages to roughly 400 employees.

The Police Services Board is set to discuss the all arguments at its budget meeting on Wednesday.