Why Chief Mark Saunders wants a $1B budget and 300 more officers

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders wants to hire about 800 more people this year, with 300 of the positions going to uniformed officers.

Saunders will present the proposal, which is part of the 2019 Operating Budget Request, to the Toronto Police Services Board Thursday.

Although any hiring would be good news for Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association (TPA), he says the numbers fall short of what the Toronto Police Service (TPS) actually needs.

“This is not like hiring 300 additional officers,” McCormack said.

“This is like trying to stop the bleed of officers leaving. Last year alone we lost 295 uniform police officers.”

One of the reasons for the decrease is a hiring freeze that was imposed about three years ago as part of an effort to modernize the service and tighten its budget.

Since then, the budget request says, spending has decreased, but “the Service’s workload has continued to increase by more than 10 per cent.”

Much of this is blamed on “servicing a growing city,” an “increased number of retirements” and a decline in “uniform staffing levels.”

Of the 800 or so Saunders wants to hire, 300 would be uniformed officers, 122 would be special constables, 186 positions would be for part-time retirees, and more than 200 positions would be for civilian roles.

Alok Mukherjee, the former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board and someone who has called for the modernization of the TPS since 2011, agrees with the new number of hires, saying they’re replacing retirees.

$1B budget proposed

Mukherjee worries, however, that the board’s 2017 action plan to modernize the TPS is moving too slowly and therefore not saving the force the money it’s supposed to.

“The report doesn’t tell us how [the TPS has] benefited from the use of technology or the civilianization of the force,” said Mukherjee.

Along with additional officers, Saunders is requesting a budget increase of three per cent or $30 million, bringing the total amount allocated to the TPS to more than $1 billion.

The last time the TPS budget hit $1 billion was in 2016, around the time the hiring freeze was introduced.

Some of the reasons the report lists for a budget hike are salary requirements, overtime pay and “other expenditures,” such as modernization initiatives.

Experts warn more spending on the horizon

Mukherjee says the current three per cent hike isn’t cause for alarm, but what follows may be.

The collective agreement between the Toronto Police Association and the TPS expired December 2018 and the sides are currently negotiating.

“It is bound to have a salary increase effective January 1, 2019,” said Mukherjee. “Once you add up those numbers, the increase in the budget may not be 30 million dollars … In the next year or two we’ll see a significant jump in the budget numbers.”

After the board votes on the police budget, it goes to city council for approval.

That vote isn’t scheduled until March.

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