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editorial

A breath of fresh air blew through the stale thinking around policing in Toronto last week when a task force released a preliminary report on modernizing the country's biggest force. The interim report from the ambitiously named Transformational Task Force outlines the basic first steps required for a police force to join the 21st century posthaste, and to shake off the old ideas that have turned the Toronto Police Service into a costly and inefficient billion-dollar ball and chain.

The report has a lot going for it. It was prepared by a task force that is co-chaired by the chief of police, Mark Saunders, and which has six officers and six members of the public on it. Its recommendations have the support of Mr. Saunders and Mayor John Tory.

Its chief critic, of course, is Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, the labour organization representing the rank and file. The mayor and the chief of police will have their work cut out for them convincing Mr. McCormack that embracing new technology in order to improve services and cut costs is not an existential threat to his 7,900 uniformed and civilian members.

Mr. McCormack has already expressed dismay that the interim report calls for a reduction in the number of police stations in the city, a $100-million cut to the $1-billion police budget over three years and a moratorium on new hires and promotions that could result in 350 fewer officers by 2017.

He says a reduction in bodies will put more demand on a force that is already over-worked. But that misses the point. The report also calls for putting an end to the outdated practice of having police officers respond to non-emergencies, such as noise complaints and minor break-ins. Instead, the report says let the cops focus on the serious, often life-threatening events they are trained to handle, and leave the less complicated work to civilian employees.

The report also calls for an increased reliance on data and technology to better assign officers to parts of the city where they are most needed, and to do away with aggressive task forces that target troubled neighbourhoods in a random fashion. It wants to see more officers working beats on foot, and see them assigned their shifts in a more efficient way than the current method of having a consistent deployment, regardless of the time of day or year.

It is not just the Police Association that needs to accept the wisdom in these proposals. The Ontario government, for instance, will have to amend provincial law so that Toronto can create municipal traffic wardens, another way of reducing the demands on highly paid uniformed officers.

It will take cooperation across the board to modernize the Toronto police. Every stakeholder needs to make sure they are seeing the broader picture. Either you embrace the future, or you become an obstacle in its path.