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Toronto police chief balks at making budget cuts

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair speaking to The Globe and Mail on June 24, 2011, following the release of a report on the police action during the G20.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

A showdown is looming over next year's police budget, with Toronto chief Bill Blair pushing back against city-wide cost-cutting measures, asking for millions in additional funding rather than imposing the 10-per-cent cut he's been directed to make.

The proposed $944.7-million budget to be considered at a meeting of the Police Services Board next week asks the city for an extra $14.5-million in 2012 – a 1.5-per-cent increase over this year.

In a report to be considered at the Wednesday meeting, Chief Blair paints a grim picture of what would be required to make the 10-per-cent cut requested of all city departments as part of mayor Rob Ford's campaign promise to reduce spending and stop the gravy train at city hall.

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Such an action, the report states, would mean the elimination of more than 1,000 jobs – 650 officers and 240 civilians by January, 2012, in addition to the 200 uniform positions that the chief has budgeted to shed through attrition.

"Any reduction of this magnitude would severely impact the service's ability to provide adequate and effective policing services and is therefore strongly not recommended," the report states.

Councillor Michael Thompson, a member of the board, called the budget proposal "unacceptable." He said he fears the board's requests have "fallen on deaf ears."

"What we have seen from the chief is a stubborn resistance to address the issue thorough the suggestions made by others," said Mr. Thompson, a member of the mayor's executive committee. "The police are not a special group and we are going to have to make some tough decisions as it relates to policing and police leadership."

Asked if the chief has lost the board's confidence, Mr. Thompson said he has not "gotten to that point," in his thinking.

Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash said that 70 per cent of the budget increases over the past seven years have been driven by collective bargaining agreements determined by the board. Potential savings that do not affect staffing are limited to a small portion of the budget and increases there have been less than the rate of inflation, he said.

"The chief hasn't said it's impossible," Mr. Pugash said of the budget request. "What he is saying is to get that money, you have to reduce significantly the number of people on the payroll."

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Service levels are mandated by the province, and the police union will likely fight any attempt to give its members pink slips.

While the mayor has called for efficiencies from all areas of government, he also has said cutting from the police service is at the bottom of his list. "I've always supported the police and the last thing I want as mayor is to have less police officers," he said last month.

A voluntary separation program already has reduced 18 senior management positions as of the end of August, and will save the force $3-million annually, Mr. Pugash said.

Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee said he is unwilling to predict the outcome of next week's meeting. "Obviously, this budget is not consistent with what the board asked for," he said. "We will have a discussion of our options."

A report for the board prepared by Mr. Mukherjee at the end of August provides an alternative to the chief's proposed budget, including a voluntary exit program for up to 400 uniformed union positions financed with $20-million from the city. It also calls for a 12-per-cent reduction in premium pay, the streamlining of management and the outsourcing of criminal record checks and payroll.

Mr. Thompson said he does not believe the requested cuts would jeopardize the safety and security of Toronto residents. "I don't buy that," he said. "[The police]have all sorts of technology to utilize to be more efficient and to do the job differently."

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Other police forces in North America have be able to reduce costs through such measures, he said. "Everybody else is making sacrifices," he said. "We continue to see the police unwilling to make sacrifices that others are willing to make."

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