The Toronto Police Service (TPS) is hosting a graduation ceremony for 129 new recruits Tuesday and while the union president says it’s a good start, he fears it might also be “too little too late.”
“It’s a big deal because we had a hiring freeze for over three years. We are almost at 1000 officers less than what we had in 2006 … It’s a good start to get the officers that we need to police the city effectively to make sure that public safety and officer safety isn’t jeopardized,” said Toronto police association president Mike McCormack.
“It’s a good start but it doesn’t get us near where we need to be though.”
He said the police service went through a modernization plan which led the way for Chief Mark Saunders to implement a hiring freeze. And while 129 recruits are graduating Tuesday, McCormack said they are still far from the number of officers the city needs.
“We are 266 less police officers than we had in 2017,” he said. “In 2019, we will have less police constables on the streets than we had in 2018. We should have continued to hire to maintain the level of staffing we need to police the city effectively.
“Clearly, there was recognition from the chief, finally, that the hiring freeze was not working and we did not have sufficient police officers.”
In 2018, 295 uniformed officers left the force, and this year the number will be about the same, McCormack said, which means TPS is still playing “catch up.”
“This is a big problem and the chief still has to look at what we’re going to have to do, what the summer plan is when we’re experiencing the level of violence that we’re experiencing in this city and for public safety, so we need to address this issue.”
Global News reported in 2018 on extended 911 wait times, where, on a number of occasions, callers were unable to get through in cases of emergency. In other instances, people in distress were left waiting for hours for an officer to show up to a scene.
During a shooting at North York Sheridan Mall that left a man dead in August 2018, a source inside the 911 communications centre shared internal call volume data from the late afternoon on Aug. 31 with Global News. It showed there were seven dispatchers on duty. At 5:22 p.m., there were 31 calls to 911, with a wait time of one minute and nine seconds. At the time of the shooting four minutes later, the callers jumped to 86 with a wait time of five minutes and 27 seconds. At 5:30 p.m., there were 56 people trying to get a hold of 911 with a wait time of seven minutes and 17 seconds.
In April 2018, the Toronto Police Services Board approved increasing the total complement of communications operators by 50 positions to 281, as well as adding three new supervisors on a permanent basis and implementing a revised shift schedule to tackle staffing shortages and cut wait times.
‘That is still a big issue,” McCormack said. “The response time, the calls are still up and we’re dealing with that through scheduling issues and trying to have the officers deployed in a more efficient way. But the problem is that we just do not have sufficient resources.
“It seems like it might be too little too late but we’re working to try and get the amount of officers we need to keep this city safe and to keep our officers and civilians safe.”
Mayor John Tory along with TPS board chair Andrew Pringle and Saunders were on hand for the ceremony.
“The graduating class is representative of Toronto’s diverse cultural community and brings a superior level of varied knowledge and abilities to the Service, including language skills, previous military or policing experience and post-secondary education,” a press release said.
The event took place at the Enercare Centre located on the Exhibition Grounds in Toronto.
Meanwhile, the graduating class is comprised of 11 per cent women, which deputy chief Shawna Coxon told Global News is down from 14 per cent. Coxon said it has been traditionally more difficult to recruit female officers.
One of the recruits is a 44-year-old single mother of two girls, Nathalee Thompson, who was a nurse who changed careers so she could make a difference. Another is a 25-year-old son of a retired Ontario Provincial Police Srgt., Sean Robertson, who told Global News it was the best day of his life because he proposed to his girlfriend after the ceremony and she said yes.
Furthermore, 91 per cent of the recruits have completed post-secondary education and 24 per cent of the class speak another language other than English, which includes Russian, French and Spanish among others.
— With files from Nick Westoll and Catherine McDonald