Toronto’s top cop wants to offload non-core police services like the city’s 600 school crossing guards in a year that is expected to see “exponential change” on the force.
Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said crossing guards shouldn’t be a police issue. “Why are we one of the only police agencies in North America looking after this?” he said in an interview with Metroland Media Toronto. “We have a tremendous amount of schools across the city and getting these boys and girls across the road is important. We’re aware of that, but there are other entities that should be, and could be doing this.”
Not only are police in charge of crossing guards, officers often fill in for them when the guards are away.
“It’s 35 times a day, give or take,” Saunders said.
“Crimes do not happen in police stations. Officers will spend more time out on the road,” Chief Mark Saunders
Police are also analyzing the types of calls they respond to.
“We, on average, go to about two-million calls a year,” Saunders said.
In 2016, police responded to more calls than the previous year though fewer calls were for an emergency.
“We had more of these calls that, to be quite honest, the police might not have been the best resource to go to, so we want to prioritize to see what calls the police should be going to and what shouldn’t we be going to,” Saunders said. “Through analytics, we’re going to figure out what those calls are going to look like that we’re not going to. We will be embedding members of city hall to work with us to develop a more robust 311 program as well as also utilizing their bylaw officers and any other assets that they can bring to the table so that they will have a more active response.”
Saunders said his officers spent “over 3,100 reported hours” on the crossing guard file.
“The taxpayers look at that and say is that the most effective and efficient way of using highly trained police officers?”
But Scarborough-Rouge River Councillor Chin Lee, who is vice-chair of the police services board, said city studies have indicated that it’ll be more expensive if the city looks after crossing guards as well as beach life guards, who are also employed by police.
“The hourly rates for the programs at the city are higher,” he said, suggesting the crossing guards should be offloaded to the school boards because “they are more familiar with the schools than we are.”
Saunders said 2017 will see “exponential change” as police begin implementing the recommendations of the final report by the Transformation Task Force on modernizing the force.
The final report goes to the police services board Jan. 26. An interim report was released in June followed by public consultations across the city.
“Over the next year, you will see us starting to roll out more officers on foot,” Saunders said. “The final report will also speak to timelines with some of the initiatives...Every three months, I have to report to my board to say that this report isn’t just a report that is sitting on my shelf; it’s a report that is actually being executed. The public had asked for that, and I will deliver.”
The implementation of the recommendations will be made over three years and is expected to save $100 million.
“The savings will be coming from the reduction in the number of officers,” Lee said. “The final target after these three years would be 4,700 uniform officers. Now, it’s about 5,200.”
Merging police stations are also in the plans.
Saunders said officers typically record their encounters in their memo books and then input the information into a computer at the station. “But our business process is going to be more virtual,” he said, adding a component of that could involve e-memo books so officers wouldn’t have to go to stations to input their encounters but do it “right where they are.”
In that way, stations would become less important.
“Crimes do not happen in police stations. Officers will spend more time out on the road,” Saunders said. “One of the things we heard at all of the community consultations was they wanted more of a community-centric approach to policing, so we’re going to be policing the neighbourhoods by having more officers on the beat.”
Lee suggested more stations don’t necessarily mean better policing.
He stressed many of the new initiatives will be implemented over three years “so don’t expect things to change overnight.”
According to Toronto police statistics, shooting occurrences in 2016 were up 41 per cent over the previous year while the number of shooting victims increased by 34 per cent.
Saunders said the problem isn’t unique to Toronto.
“The answer is not just about enforcement,” he added. “It’s about government working with the police to invest in those neighbourhoods that are in need of resources and that are in need of guidance, and I think that is the starting point to success.”