Toronto police to vote on confidence in Chief Mark Saunders

Click to play video: 'Pressure is on Toronto’s police chief' Pressure is on Toronto’s police chief
Fri, Feb 16: Toronto's police chief is on the hot seat with the police union's latest pressure tactic. As Caryn Lieberman reports, officers are being asked to take part in a non-confidence vote against him – Feb 16, 2018

The Toronto Police Association is taking the unusual step of holding a confidence vote, in the leadership of Chief Mark Saunders.

Online voting opened Thursday at 3 p.m. and closes at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 21.

In an internal memo sent to its members, the Toronto Police Association Board of Directors explains a “No Confidence Vote sends a message to the Chief, our elected City leaders, and the community that our members have lost confidence in the Chief’s ability to act in the best interests of the membership and the community.”

The memo cites numerous attempts to address relief measures for its members, yet the chief “has continuously failed to put forward any meaningful solutions to relieve stress.”

LISTEN: Mike McCormack, president of TPA talks about vote of no confidence against Chief Saunders 

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack told Global News Friday that the vote “allows the members to have a voice and it sends a clear message that the chief either needs to change to address the issues of the membership and what’s going on in policing right now or he will be an ineffective leader, nothing will happen without the members behind him.”

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The association said Saunders has been slow to act on a number of issues, including concerns about delayed response to 911 calls, highlighted in a series of recent Global News stories.

In fact, Chief Saunders admitted to Global News there “may be room for improvement” after initially rejecting claims about ongoing problems at Communications.

READ MORE: 911 on hold: Delays reported at Toronto police dispatch

The union representing Toronto Police Service officers claims a lack of leadership by the chief is jeopardizing member and public safety.

While a non-confidence vote is not binding on Chief Saunders, it underscores the growing rift between his office and many Toronto Police Association members.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a statement that he has “complete confidence in Chief Mark Saunders.”

“Toronto is the safest city in North America thanks to the hard work of the members of the Toronto Police Service. I remain committed to the plan to modernize the Toronto Police Service and know the Chief is dedicated to addressing the concerns which always arise when significant change takes place,” the statement read.

“At this very moment, more than 80 new police officers are being hired and staffing is being significantly increased at 911. Responsibilities are being taken on by the City so police officers can be deployed where they are needed most instead of directing traffic or answering noise calls.

“I strongly believe that continuing constructive discussion is far preferable to billboards and online votes as a way to address genuinely held concerns on the part of our police officers,” read the statement.

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READ MORE: Toronto police say high-risk sex offender released from prison

When asked whether he believes Saunders should resign, McCormack said: “The ball is in his court, clearly there needs to be some change and if he’s capable of making those changes that’s fine, but if not, then he should get out of the way.”

The TPA notes the cancellation of recruit classes, freeze on hiring and promotions and high attrition rate are the key drivers in a “morale crisis” among members.

Toronto Police Service declined to comment.

Family Day ‘Peaceful Gathering’

On Family Day Monday, the families of TPS officers are gathering outside police headquarters for what they’re calling a “peaceful gathering” to share concerns and “raise awareness for the growing officer safety issues due to staffing shortages.”

One of the organizers, Jelena Yeung, the wife of a front-line police officer said this has had a grave impact on life at home.

“It’s so hard kissing my husband every day and wondering if that might be the last time I see him. That’s happening. It never was before,” she told Global News tearfully Friday.

READ MORE: Toronto police 911 dispatch issues resolved after ‘technical difficulties’

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Yeung said she thought she knew what she was getting herself into when she married a police officer, but she claims it’s become far more difficult over the last few years.

“It’s hard on the family, it’s hard on the marriage and it’s very hard on me and the spouses of the service,” she noted. “Their shift works changes, it varies from day to day, week to week, so our lives are never constant.”

Yeung hopes Monday’s rally will attract the attention of Saunders and lead to change for her husband and the spouses of many others.

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