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A man under arrest is brought to a scout car on in Toronto.

The reduction of uniformed officers proposed by Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair is a reduction in the "established strength" – the maximum number of potential employees – and because the force is operating well below that number now, the final operating budget could result in a net increase of at least 120 uniformed officers by the end of 2016.

The annual budget, which must be approved by the Toronto Police Services Board, would also likely increase by at least five per cent over that period, based on internal cost projections and a conservative estimate of any contract settlement between the board and the police association.

The 2015 operating budget request, which is before the board at its meeting on Thursday, comes at a time when there have been increased calls for a comprehensive review of rising police costs. By the end of this year a consulting firm retained by the board is scheduled to provide a detailed report looking at ways to provide policing in a more cost effective way, including possibilities such as outsourcing some of its existing duties.

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Chief Blair will be leaving the job in 2015, after the board decided not to extend his contract. He has responded with a "stay the course" budget, said Christian Leuprecht, a professor at Queen's University in Kingston and the Royal Military College, who published a recent academic study on police costs in Canada. "It is basically in line with past years. He does not want to constrain the next chief," said Mr. Leuprecht.

The proposal, first made public last week, presents a net operating budget of $957.7-million ($1.088-billion gross) for 2015, which it describes as a zero per cent increase from the approved budget this year. The document projects a 1.6 per cent increase in operating costs in 2016. In both cases, the totals do not include the costs of collective agreements for uniformed and civilian employees at the Toronto police, whose contracts expire at the end of this year. Wages and benefits make up more than 90 per cent of the total operating budget and because they are negotiated, the chief has no control over them.

The Toronto Police Association has negotiated or been awarded salary increases that total 21.8 per cent over the past seven years. If, for example, the police union accepted only a two per cent annual wage hike, with no change in benefits, it would increase the annual budget by more than $40-million by the end of 2016.

Chief Blair has proposed reducing the uniform "established strength" from 5505 officers to 5462, while at the same time increasing the established strength of civilian employees by 56 to 2218. Established strength is the maximum figure approved by the board and city council.

The current number of officers actually employed by Toronto police is about 5275 and Chief Blair proposes increasing this to about 5400 over the next two years. The budget request also stresses the need to ramp up civilian hiring since there are about 200 fewer employees than the current permitted maximum.

The established strength figure is a "political bargain" between police and the board and council, said Mr. Leuprecht. "It tells us nothing about what the staffing should be," he said. A more sophisticated formula needs to be devised to determine the police needs of a municipality, he said.

Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto police services board, said a review of the established strength figure "is the second piece of the conversation" related to police costs. "We have to look first at the whole organization and the services it delivers," said Mr. Mukherjee. Simply reducing the number of police officers is a "meat cleaver" approach to reducing costs, instead of an informed review that may ultimately lead to other agencies taking on duties currently performed by police.

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A number of factors, including the crime rate, are considered when staffing proposals are made at budget time, said Toronto police spokeswoman Meaghan Gray. "Examples of this would include the number of calls received, the time spent on those calls, the number and the type of pro-active crime prevention initiatives," she explained. In 2015, the Pan American Games is another factor and the percentage of officers who can be on leave during that time is being reduced to cut back on potential overtime costs, she said.

Before there is any broader reform, the board must first negotiate contracts with the Toronto Police Association.

The current annual base salary of $94,702 for a first class Ontario Provincial Police constable is more than four per cent higher than an equivalent officer in Toronto. But the head of the police union said what other officers make, will not be the focus of negotiations. "We are looking for a fair settlement that reflects the fiscal realities of living in Toronto," said Mike McCormack. "We are an integral part of crime reduction. We provide safe communities. Ultimately, it is up to the taxpayers to decide on the policing they want to have," he said.

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