‘This is a crisis’: Toronto police union targets mayor, police officials in ad over staffing

The union representing Toronto police officers has launched an ad targeting the mayor and senior police service officials, saying they’re to blame for a “crisis” in staffing and response times.

“Meet the three reasons @TorontoPolice can’t provide the response times you deserve @JohnTory @marksaunderstps @TPSBoard,” Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack tweeted Tuesday morning, with a picture showing Mayor John Tory, Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle either smiling or laughing in front of a 911 graphic splattered in red.

The picture also contained the words of “Toronto police 911” saying “…Please hold, your call will be answered by the next available operator.”

“These guys are putting your safety on hold,” the picture also said.

TPA president McCormack told Global News the union targeted Tory, Saunders and Pringle as leaders for the Toronto Police Service and the City of Toronto. He said the service hasn’t adequately provided the appropriate level of staffing as officials work on implementing a large police modernization initiative.

“This is a crisis. Those three people are responsible. They need to fix it, we’ve asked them to fix it, we pleaded with them to fix it,” McCormack said.

“They haven’t, and unfortunately, they’re the ones who have caused this situation — they’re the ones who need to fix it.”

READ MORE: Toronto police officers still wearing ball caps despite Chief’s order

The ad comes after the union began job action in 2017 to protest staffing levels. Several officers wore baseball caps with “TPA” written on the front in support.

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. At the time, McCormack said those 80 officers won’t make up for all the resignations and retirements. In September, he said the service lost 203 uniformed officers and 124 civilians and expected more job vacancies in the coming years.

The union has been raising concerns about the Toronto police modernization plan, which was unveiled early last year. The plan called for fewer policing divisions and other changes designed to make the force more efficient.

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

As Global News previously reported, Saunders tasked Deputy Chief Shawna Coxon to do a high-level review of the 911 communication centre.

During a shooting at North York Sheridan Mall that left a man dead in August, a source inside the 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 waiting time of one minute and nine seconds. At the time of the shooting four minutes later, the callers jumped to 86 with a waiting 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 waiting time of seven minutes and 17 seconds.

The internationally accepted standard for answering 911 calls suggests 90 per cent of all calls should be picked up within 10 seconds – even during the busiest time of day. The guideline is laid out by the operating procedures committee of the National Emergency Number Association. Additionally, 95 per cent of all 911 calls should be answered within 20 seconds.

READ MORE: Delays reported at Toronto police dispatch

Meanwhile, Tory called the ad “most unfortunate” when asked about it on Tuesday afternoon.

“It is a throwback to the old days of police union bosses trying to bully people. Imagine having blood splattered behind us in the form of 911,” he said.

“That the notion of that is best moved forward or the problem is best solved by deploying blood behind three people, who seem to be taking this lightly, I think is not going to achieve anything and is not the way.”

READ MORE: Toronto Mayor John Tory talks 2018 election, transportation and policing in year-end interview

Tory said he has ongoing talks with McCormack about staffing issues and said the police service has hired several new officers and 911 operators.

“I’ve been carrying on what I thought were very constructive discussions with Mr. McCormack and his job, and he has his job to do,” he said.

“We have moved to make sure the chief was on top of the 911 issue, which he is. We have moved to hire 80 additional police officers. We are still giving the police a billion dollars to operate their police service this year.”

READ MORE: Toronto police union reaches a ‘breaking point,’ calls for a stop to police cuts

Global News attempted to speak with Pringle on Tuesday, but a representative said he was out of the office and unavailable for comment.

A Toronto Police Service spokesperson declined to comment on the tweet and website and referred the request to the City of Toronto, which was subsequently referred to Tory.

— With files from Kerri Breen and Jessica Patton

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