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‘We need more boots on the ground’: Toronto police families hold Family Day rally

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WATCH ABOVE: Family members of police officers say under-staffing and over-working are leading to personal stress and impacting the lives of front-line officers at home. Mark Carcasole reports – Feb 19, 2018

As residents across the city were celebrating Family Day on Monday, loved ones of Toronto police officers held a rally outside of the service’s headquarters amid increasing concerns about stress and fatigue.

“I am here today because my husband’s work life is at risk every time he goes to work,” Jelena Leung, whose husband has worked as a Toronto police officer for 16 years, told Chief Mark Saunders in front of reporters.

“I see the state he comes home in every day. I see the state he goes to work in. If you’re telling me that’s not an officer safety concern, if that’s not a public safety concern, I’m not sure who you’ve been listening to and that’s why we’re here today sir.”

READ MORE: Toronto police union targets mayor, police officials in ad over staffing

The rally comes after the Toronto Police Association (TPA), the union representing officers, launched a “Stop the Toronto Police Cuts” campaign last month targeting the mayor and senior police service officials. The union said they’re to blame for a “crisis” in staffing and response times amid a large modernization initiative.

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Saunders, who briefly attended the rally, spoke with Leung and said he is concerned about officer safety. He said he would like to sit down with Leung to further discuss the deployment of resources.

“The fact that I’ve gone through every single station and spoke with every single person, civilian and sworn, explained what is going on and the direction we’re moving in,” he said.

READ MORE: Toronto police to vote on confidence in Chief Mark Saunders

“It’s been a frustrating year because of all the implementation pieces, we’re now in the action mode. We are now starting to push things out there that are tangible — connected officers, deployment of districts, realigning our resources a lot better — and that’s when we can have that conversation so you can see exactly what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.”

Saunders declined to speak with the media about the concerns raised by family members at the rally.

Monday’s event comes days after the union launched a symbolic online vote for its members. It asked them if they still have confidence in Saunders. The online vote, which is scheduled to close Wednesday night, is the latest step taken by the TPA after it began job action in 2017 to protest staffing levels.

READ MORE: Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders calls for review of 911 communications centre

In August, an agreement was struck between the union, Toronto police and the Toronto Police Services Board to hire 80 new officers despite a hiring freeze, and review staffing levels for communications operators and divisional staff.

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As a part of the modernization plan, it calls for fewer policing divisions and other changes designed to make the force more efficient.

TPA president Mike McCormack cited an example from Sunday as a reason he said current staffing levels are unsustainable.

WATCH: TPA attacks city hall leadership, union president declines campaign personal. Alan Carter has more. (Jan. 23)

Click to play video 'The Breakdown: Toronto Police Association attacks city hall leadership' The Breakdown: Toronto Police Association attacks city hall leadership
The Breakdown: Toronto Police Association attacks city hall leadership – Jan 23, 2018

“In one of our east-end divisions, we had four police officers show up for the division,” McCormack told reporters Monday morning.

“They had to take two detective constables out of the detective branch so that they could go out and be in a cruiser so we could have six people available. There was only one supervisor for the entire division.”

Sheila Wilson, whose son-in-law is a Toronto police officer, said she is concerned about his well-being and that of his co-workers.

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“They’re exhausted. They’re so short-staffed. I don’t know what the answer is, but we need more boots on the ground,” she said.

“My daughter feels like a single parent — the shifts that her husband works. Then when he is home, he’s so exhausted he sleeps.”

— With files from Mark Carcasole and Kayla McLean