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Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair speaks to the media in Toronto early Tuesday, July 17, 2012, near the scene of a shooting that left 19 people injured and two dead at a house party late Monday, July 16. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair speaks to the media in Toronto early Tuesday, July 17, 2012, near the scene of a shooting that left 19 people injured and two dead at a house party late Monday, July 16. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

CITY HALL

Police budget cuts mean layoffs, Chief Blair warns Add to ...

City Hall’s struggle to flat-line the police budget is set to come to a head, with Chief Bill Blair warning that further austerity will mean layoffs and cuts – including the end of a program that puts officers in secondary schools.

The civilian board that oversees the force has asked the chief to keep next year’s spending at 2012’s level – $927.8-million. Because officers are due for a contract-mandated pay raise, this means the force must make cuts.

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For more than a year, the service has made reductions to various spending, including overtime pay and travel expenses. In a report to the board, which will be debated Wednesday, Chief Blair says the only way to make significant futher cuts is to lay off 137 officers and 52 civilian staff.

But such a move might not even make a difference in next year’s budget. The province must review layoffs first and the officers’ union can file grievances. It could take years to hand police pink slips.

On Monday, City Hall showed no sign of backing off the zero-increase budget target, and one member of the police board wasn’t convinced by the chief’s assertion that cuts would have to translate into layoffs. Councillor Frances Nunziata suggested the service could amalgamate its human resources and other administrative functions with the city’s.

“We have to be creative, and there are opportunities there without layoffs, internally to amalgamate some of the departments and where you can actually put more police officers on the street and that will have a huge impact,” she said.

Budget chief Mike Del Grande, who made a personal appeal to the board for austerity earlier this year, said he was sticking to his guns.

“It’s my job to do that,” he said. “It’s an ugly, dirty job, not everybody agrees with it. But somebody’s got to do it and I’ve got to do it.”

Board chair Alok Mukherjee would not comment on the budget Monday, but in an interview this summer, he said it was “premature” to suggest letting people go was the only way to keep spending down.

The politicians’ optimism stands in contrast to the bleak picture Chief Blair paints of the effect layoffs and a continued hiring freeze would have on the force.

For instance, his report contends school resource officers would be redeployed to fill front-line duties. The program, which began in 2008, was created after the shooting death of 15-year-old Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute the previous year. Its aim is to build bridges between police and students, and help prevent crime.

He argues that patrols of the public-transit system would also be eliminated, while cuts would have to made to a wide range of departments, including the public order unit, the emegency task force and professional standards, the section that investigates allegations of police wrongdoing. Basic functions, including foot patrols and traffic enforcement, would also be cut back.

In addition, he suggests some of the force’s attempts at equity would be damaged, since recently hired officers would be the first to go.

Toronto’s police budget has steadily climbed over the years, fuelled in large part by collective agreements that give officers raises above the rate of inflation. The most recent deal set out raises of 3 per cent in 2012 and 2013. Over the last year, the national inflation rate was roughly 1.2 per cent.

If police boards and unions can’t reach a deal, they are referred to provincial arbitrators, who have a reputation for giving officers pay increases. Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is set to speak to the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards Tuesday and call for reform to the arbitration system.

With officers locked into the current contract until 2014, the chief and the board have to find other places to make cuts.

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