Alok Mukherjee has been chair of the Toronto Police Board for almost a decade – about as long as Bill Blair has been chief of police. While Mr. Mukherjee’s term as a board member was renewed last April until 2016, his chairmanship is up for review each January. Given the public fighting within the board, and between the chief and the mayor – and with an election looming – it remains to be seen whether he will remain chair into 2015 and whether the chief’s contract will be extended when it comes up for renewal next April.
The city appoints four representatives to the board: two councillors, the mayor [although Rob Ford appointed Councillor Michael Thompson to represent him] and one citizen member. The three other members are appointed by the province.
An internal organizational review by Chief Blair has recently drawn criticism from at least one police board member, and resulted in a decision by the board to do a formal reassessment of the chief’s review. Councillor Thompson, the vice-chair of the board who has been outspoken about his view that Toronto needs a new chief, has called it a “review of a review.” His earlier public criticism of the chief was censured by the board and Mr. Thompson is seeking redress in the courts.
Chief Blair and the police services board have also been criticized by the mayor’s brother Doug Ford, over the ongoing investigation of Rob Ford and the video that allegedly shows him smoking crack cocaine.
When asked about having to do another organizational review, Mr. Mukherjee told the Globe in a recent interview that the decision to do so was unanimous. The chief’s review found $7-million of savings annually, on a total yearly budget of more than $1-billion.
“There’s an agreement on one issue: We can’t continue to raise the police budget year after year. In fact, what we have to do is to look at the ways to reduce the budget and that’s what we are currently doing,” Mr. Mukherjee said.
When is Chief Blair’s term due to be renewed?
April next year. So there’s plenty of time. The chief has to apply to the board [to say that] he wants his appointment to be renewed for one more term of five years. By April , he will have 10 years as the chief.
Are there conflicts and differences of opinion on essential issues between the board and the chief?
Sometimes the board agrees with the chief and sometimes we don’t. That’s normal. The board takes advice from the chief and the chief makes his recommendations. The board discusses those recommendations that the board may or may not accept.
Does the chief want to hire more police officers?
Those are false impressions. The chief hasn’t said he wants more officers. The chief has come forward with other options in his report called the “chief’s internal organizational review.’ He has said there are 250 jobs that he can have civilians perform. And the board is saying, are there other options? The board is having its own review done this year.
When the chief says he can have 250 jobs performed by civilians, would that save money?
Yes, it will. Not all civilians are paid less – in information technology, etc., civilians are paid higher than uniformed officers. If we are using civilians for administrative and clerical work, not using police resources, that could save money. The chief is saying he can use civilians for forensic identifications. He’s looking at those options, but the board is saying, let’s look at more options.
In the end, it is the board and city council that establish the actual number, it’s not the chief. We are all interested in effective police services in the city and we can’t make an arbitrary decision. That’s why reviews are so important. Such reviews are going on even at the ministry level on the issue of policing, not only in Toronto but right across the province because all the boards and the government are concerned about the rising cost of policing.
It is expected we will see different options and then debate those options. The chief is an integral part of that debate. Sometimes that debate can be intense because people have strong views. There’s an agreement on one issue: We can’t continue to raise the police budget year after year. In fact, what we have to do is to look at the ways to reduce the budget and that’s what we are currently doing.
What’s your total budget this year?
It is $1.043-billion.
What was it two years ago?
It was close to $900-million. Please bear in mind that 88 per cent of our budget is on human resources – salaries and benefits. Any human service organization – police, the school system, universities, social services – all their main expenses are on human resources. And in every sector, salaries don’t decline. They rise. And so also the benefits rise. You have to look at the ways to control that cost and look for ways to manage other costs. You have to look at alternative models, use of technology, use alternative business processes, don’t do things that you don’t need to do.
So it is a lively area for discussion: how do you modernize, how do you find creative ways to provide good quality service at a lower cost?
We have 5,604 uniformed officers, but actually we have close to 5,400, as 200 to 250 officers retire every year. And last year, the board put on a hiring freeze. So, we work with the 5,400 to 5,450 range.
There are indications that some members of the board may want to remove you from your position as the chair. Is a no-confidence motion possible under the Police Services Act?
The Act is silent on that issue, but there are rules of procedures, and the chair functions on the confidence of the board. If the board loses confidence in the chair, then they can out vote the chair.
Of the seven board members, how many votes do you think are currently in your favour?
So far on all important issues I have the support of the full board. Right now, we are working on several and the full board is on-side with me on: carding, the budget, bargaining with the police union, etc. Therefore, I don’t worry about what people are saying or what the rumours are.
You recently said you have support of four of seven board members?
What I said was I have the support of four board members to be able to make a decision. Majority of seven is four. It was in that context I said I have the support of four members, but so far I have the unanimous support of the board on all major issues starting with board-led review of the organization, on bargaining. On all these issues, the board has worked together.
This interview has been edited and condensed.