Toronto Police Association launches website warning of a 'staffing crisis'

The Toronto Police Association launched a website Monday to alert the public to what it calls “a crisis in staffing levels" amid the city's push to limit ballooning policing costs.

Police officers are 'burnt out and stressed out,' according to TPA president Mike McCormack

Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, says there is 'crisis in staffing' on the force. (CBC Toronto)

The Toronto Police Association is alleging that working conditions have reached "a breaking point" as the city works to rein in a ballooning police budget that soared to more than $1 billion in 2016. 

The union representing the city's police officers launched a website Monday in an effort to alert the public to "a crisis in staffing levels," according to Mike McCormack, president of the association.

Website launched by the Toronto Police Association to share information on what the union is calling a 'staffing crisis.' (Mike Cole/CBC Toronto )

"In some of our largest areas or divisions, for instance in the east end, we had only six officers out there servicing 300,000 people living in that area," McCormack told CBC Toronto. "And this is happening all the time."

"In the northwest, we had eight officers on Sunday night and we had some sexual assaults, some domestic assaults, and then there were six calls for shots being fired and we didn't have any officers to respond to that," he added.

McCormack says the staffing number is taking a toll on police. "Our officers, in particular our frontline officers, are being burnt out and stressed out."

He says the association has given police officers "specific direction" on how to cope with being overextended.

"Today we have 500 less officers than we had in 2010. [The Toronto Police Service] want to go down another 450 officers. We're looking at losing 277 employees from ... who are not going to be replaced because we are not hiring," said McCormack. 

Association opposes task force

The freeze on new hires and promotions is one of 34 recommendations included in a report by the Toronto police transformational task force that was adopted earlier this year. The group of six police officers and six members of the public was assembled to explore how to "modernize" the force. 

Priority was given to measures that would chop an estimated $100 million from the police budget. Money allocated for the service was increasing year after year, and exceeded $1 billion in the 2016 budget. The task force also proposed closing divisions and changing the way officers interact with the community. 

Effort to reduce Toronto's policing budget came against a backdrop of cutting costs across the board. Last year, Mayor John Tory led a push at council to ask all city departments and agencies to find 2.6 per cent worth of reductions.

The union has largely opposed the task force since its inception.

"The transformational task force, which are recommending all of these cuts, have not been communicating with our members in any effective way," McCormack said.

"We want to sit down with the police services board and command and do something to fix the staffing issue right now."

The association has reached out, McCormack says, but claims that their message has "fallen on deaf ears."

Mark Pugash, spokesperson for the Toronto Police, says the organization needs 'a sustainable model to keep Toronto the largest safe big city in North America.' (CBC Toronto)

Mark Pugash, spokesperson for the Toronto police, says that the pushback is to be expected as the force prepares to undergo "a period of modernization."

"Chief Saunders has tried to see as many members of the Toronto Police Service as he can face-to-face to explain the process ...  to understand their concerns."

The changes are necessary as police "need a sustainable model to keep Toronto the largest safe big city in North America," Pugash said.

"If there are police officers who are suffering from stress, we have support services that are second to none."

Pugash also dismissed concerns that public safety is at risk.

"We've seen excellent work by police officers. Homicides are down. Traffic fatalities are down considerably because they're doing an excellent job and I have no doubt that they will continue the sort of work that has produced these results."

He maintains that changes are unavoidable and are being handled, "slowly and patiently."