The head of Toronto’s police union is lashing out at the chair of the police board, accusing him of grandstanding and taking advantage of a vacuum in leadership at the Toronto Police Service to further his own agenda.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack issued a statement to union members on Wednesday calling recent comments by board chair Alok Mukherjee about the future of policing “misleading.” In media interviews last week, Mr. Mukherjee spoke of the board’s decision not to renew Chief Bill Blair’s contract, saying the force needs “fundamental transformation” – telling the Toronto Star the traditional model of policing, with a heavy emphasis on force, “has outlived its utility and relevance.”
Mr. Mukherjee’s comments come amid upheaval at Toronto Police Service. Last week, the police board – a seven-member civilian oversight committee – denied Chief Blair a third term after his contract expires next year. And the board itself will see a changeover in coming years: The October municipal election will end the terms of the three councillors, the city’s appointee will be up for renewal by the new council, and Mr. Mukherjee and the other two provincial representatives’ will finish their terms in 2016.
“It appears to me that there seems to be some type of an agenda,” Mr. McCormack said in an interview with The Globe about the police chair’s comments.
He said he and the board chair have been talking about the future of policing, and “I don’t remember Mukherjee floating these positions forward in a public way like this. But all of a sudden, the chief is removed from the discussion. … Why hasn’t he been talking about these ideas in the past?”
In the TPA statement, titled “Just the Facts,” the union challenges Mr. Mukherjee’s assertion in the Star that 80 per cent of police work no longer falls under the traditional definition of “crime fighting” – instead, officers deal with issues such as mental health, domestic violence and youth safety.
“His observation is incorrect and does not reflect the multidimensional nature of police work,” the statement reads. “Contrary to [Mr.] Mukherjee’s observations, domestic violence and youth safety issues are generally criminal in nature.”
Mr. McCormack said many of the suggestions Mr. Mukherjee has mentioned are initiatives police are already undertaking. “He knows that this is ongoing, but now he has the opportunity to grandstand,” Mr. McCormack said.
The board chair did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
Mr. McCormack also took issue with Mr. Mukherjee’s comments that the force could one day take guns away from some officers.
“We had seven shootings this weekend past. … There are armed people, there are gangs in the city,” he said. “We provide a multifaceted service, and we need to have the equipment to deal with that.”
The board chair has cited cost-cutting as another reason the board decided to cut ties with Chief Blair. On Wednesday, mayoral candidate David Soknacki pledged to find $65-million in savings in the police budget, while Mayor Rob Ford told reporters he and the chief had also butted heads over costs.
“I think that’s where Chief Blair and I had major problems,” Mr. Ford said on CP24. “I asked for efficiencies to be found … I guess he didn’t want to do that.” The mayor said he expected the next chief should be able to find at least five per cent in savings.
“I don’t care – male, female. I need someone there who can find the efficiencies.”
And Mr. Ford – who clashed with Chief Blair after he revealed last year that police have a copy of a video alleged to show the mayor smoking crack cocaine – also questioned the fact that Chief Blair will receive a full year’s salary (or $367,719) when he leaves.
“I wish the chief the best, but that’s a little too rich for my liking,” Mr. Ford said.