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Police board to review allegations officers intimidated event organizers

Councillor Mike Del Grande speaks during a debate at Toronto city hall on March 21 2012.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Toronto Police Services Board will investigate allegations that some officers tried to cadge free food while on paid duty at community events, intimidating organizers.

The accusation was made by Councillor Mike Del Grande at a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board.

Faced with a planned hike in paid duty rates, the board voted Thursday to review the requirement that paid duty cops be posted at special events.

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The board also voted a motion to express "disappointment" that the paid duty rate would increase from $65 to $68 an hour for a constable.

With police chief Bill Blair sitting at his left, Mr. Del Grande went on a lengthy criticism of paid duty – when officers direct traffic outside construction sites or attend private events.

Mr. Del Grande mentioned two events where, he said, organizers were pressed into giving freebies to officers they had to hire to be on duty at the scene.

"In his remarks, Councillor Del Grande made a number of very serious allegations including allegations, if proven true, of a criminal in nature," Mr. Blair told the board.

He said his service's professional standards unit would investigate.

"I just want to advise the board that I've directed, made recommendations to ... initiate a professional standards criminal investigation into the allegations made by the councillor."

Mr. Del Grande said he could not understand how Toronto officers could earn more than $20 million a year for those duties when Montreal police make $3 million for similar work.

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"There isn't anybody close to us. You scratch your head. What's going?" Mr. Del Grande said.

"It's become almost an entitlement."

He mentioned speaking to organizers of an Armenian festival and a charity ribs fest who complained that the tab for off-duty officers was so high it jeopardized their events.

"So why are we going through all these efforts for charity and we're not making money?" he said he was told.

"And to add insult to injury … not only at the Armenian festival but at the rib fest, but there was an expectation, not said directly, but an expectation that there were going to be free tickets for the ribs and there's going to be free tickets to eat at the Armenian festival.

"And not only that but fellow colleagues would be coming down to get some free tickets as well. And people felt intimidated... they were afraid ... Our public should not be afraid of the police. It makes no sense."

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He recounted another event, at L'Amoreaux District Park in his ward, Community Environment Day.

"This councillor is basically doing this, okay?" he said, standing up and making traffic-direction gestures.

The paid duty officer who was paid to watch traffic stood nearby with his arms crossed "for the whole three hours."

Mr. Del Grande said the problem has existed for decades.

Describing himself as "an old fart," he said he once worked as a flagman for a construction company in the early 1970s when he needed money for university tuition fees.

He said police officers would show up on construction sites to claim that duty. "They basically went on sites and said it's our job."

With files from Sahar Fatima

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