No confidence in the Toronto Police Association

It is passing strange that the Toronto Police Association should be attacking Chief Mark Saunders and supporting protests against him.

What is really at play here? Is it a loss of confidence in the Chief ? A potential loss of police staff benefits? Some other undeclared reasons? Or a combination of all of these factors?

The pattern of the anti-Saunders campaign is clear for all to see. The first salvo came in the form of a tasteless advertisement in which the Chief was pictured as the willing accomplice of the Mayor and the Chair of the Board of the Toronto Police Service.  With the number “ 991” painted blood red, the three co-conspirators seemed to be enjoying the nefarious act of sacrificing the blood of police officers.

Sometime later, the Association announced that it was going online to launch a no-confidence vote against Chief Saunders. This time, the Association made the Chief the prime target of their discontent, fully aware that such a vote will have no binding effect on Saunders’ tenure as Chief. Their thinking is that if the outcome of the vote goes according to plan, it will confirm that the Chief does not have the support of rank and file police officers.

Pushing that envelope skillfully, the Association’s President Mike Mc Cormack has confirmed that his members fully support the recent protest by the families of Toronto police officers outside the police headquarters building.

That protest was a masterstroke of public relations, so tactfully implemented on Ontario’s Family Day holiday. Instead of spending the day at home or on a pleasurable family outing, the spouses and children of police officers were seen protesting in front of police headquarters. They were publicly expressing their fear and concern for the physical health, the mental health and the safety of their “overworked” loved ones who were being exposed to risk and danger by the uncaring polices of an “understaffed” police service.

All three of those initiatives are farcical. The fact is that the alleged staff shortages supposedly created by the current police service modernization plan cannot simply be attributed to the Chief in the cursory manner in which the Association is proceeding.

That modernization plan was created at the instigation of and approved by the Police Services Board, not the Chief.

Even more relevant is the fact that the plan is far less ambitious than the one originally backed by the other candidate for the leadership of the police service, former Deputy Chief Peter Sloly.

That was one of the main reasons why Saunders got the top job instead of Sloly in 2015. It was well known that the Association had strongly “advocated” for Saunders, because Sloly could not be depended upon to blindly defend the existing benefits for police officers and the other selfish aspects of the Association’s agenda.

The Association is therefore disappointed that Chief Saunders is not leading the fight against the current modernization plan. Saunders, in their view should be resisting the reallocation of resources that gives higher priority to the use of technology and of modern policing strategies to assign police officers to the tasks that most require their specialized police skills.

But that has not been the case. Chief Saunders is now perceived by the Association as insolently putting the modernization plan ahead of the police officers’ perks. They feel betrayed by the Chief’s public declarations to the effect that, though officers’ safety is one of his prime concerns, the main factor in modernization must be the more efficient allocation of existing resources.

Moreover, they must be less than impressed by the polite and positive tone of the encounter between the Chief and Ms. Jelena Leung, the police spouse leading the Family Day protest. They agreed to meet to discuss the issues in a more appropriate “environment” and they both seemed to be pleased with that outcome.

Meanwhile, very little attention is being given to such considerations as the facts that Toronto’s police officers receive very good salaries and that those salaries are substantially enhanced by the unethical practice of “paid duty”: well-paid private assignments for their uniformed presence at construction sites and at non-government events.

What about the epidemic of ingrained racial profiling and carding by the police, and the numerous instances of police officers using excessive force?

It is useful to remember that all police service policies,  including the allocation of human, financial and material resources, are negotiated between the Association and the Police Services Board, the final decision resting with the Board.

The Police Chief has no decision-making authority in these matters. And the Association knows this very well.

In that context, why is so much of the Association’s venom being directed at the Chief?

Many activists and observers feel that the Association’s targeted campaign against Chief Saunders is driven partly by selfish self-interest, but mostly by racism.

With good reason.