Is now the right time to cut back on police?

TORONTO - Radical change is coming to Toronto policing.

From eliminating pay duties to closing down divisions to staffing reductions to new community policing initiatives to arming officers with smartphones, Toronto has never seen policing changes like this.

Chief Mark Saunders is set to introduce transformation.

But Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, worries it may become the end of policing as we have always known it — and not necessarily for the better.

Sweeping changes could include the shuttering or restructuring of six of the city’s 17 police divisions, the reduction of 450 police officers and transferring parking enforcement duties to the city. Other expected changes include an effective end to some pay duty practices — such as staffing Blue Jays, Leafs, Raptors, TFC or Argos games and concerts and major changes to long-standing community crime prevention programs such as TAVIS, and working closer with mall security.

The recommendations are part of a review conducted over the past year by Mayor John Tory’s “transformational” task force on policing.

The first question has got to be: In a year when Toronto is experiencing violent crime rates that in some categories are double compared to last year, is this the right time to be cutting officers and TAVIS?

With terror threats on our most important summer event, the Pride Parade, as well as a terror attack on our troops at Yonge and Sheppard, can a leaner police service handle all the problems at this time in history?

“All divisional boundaries will be readjusted,” said a briefing document. “As a result, 12, 13, 33, 53 and 41” police stations could (be) impacted. The first test will be 54 and 55 Divisions amalgamation.

Nothing is set in stone.

“There will be extensive consultation through the summer and fall on this interim report,” said Tory. “That will start with public deputations at the July board meeting.”

The idea is to get more officers out of the office and into the community. Less focus on buildings and more on the street.

But also with less officers.

The number of uniformed Toronto Police officers, currently around 5,200, could be reduced to 4,750, according to sources. The civilian ranks could be cut from 2,220 to 1,850.

There will also be no new hiring for three years and no promotions.

“What scares me the most is we will be down 450 officers and no new hires for three years?” said one officer. “The (potential elimination) of six stations boggles my mind. I understand that it will eliminate the need for about 40 staff sergeants, as well as the six superintendents, but I’m sure those communities won’t be happy.”

Under the plan, school crossing guards and life guards will no longer fall under police, and parking enforcement officers will become parking wardens and work directly for the city. Changes are being talked about with court officers and a closing of the Transit Unit.

“This will change everything we do,” said one officer, adding it will do “nothing to help solve crime.”

Still, some of the ideas are positive and people have to resist the urge to fight change just because. That said, it must be remembered if you change the way police do things but don’t change the mental health realities or the court system, it may not be as easy to implement as it seems on paper.

Toronto cops do not have an easy job. Those are tough streets out there. Dangerous. Mean.

McCormack said when you talk of savings from cutting officers and civilians, one should not just talk in terms of dollars on a budget sheet.

“I will have more to say when I see the chief’s actual document,” he said. “But so far all I hear is talk of the cost of policing and not any talk on the value of policing.”

If crime keeps spiking in the years ahead like it has in 2016, there will be plenty of talk about it.

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