$200 million in savings in two easy steps
But just try telling that to Bill Blair and the Toronto Police Association
Police chief Bill Blair is threatening job cuts, but is there a better way?
It’s true that life can become so ordered that ridiculous things become standard practice and are taken for granted. It happens in marriages and in business, and it also happens in government.
The best defence is often said to be openness, transparency and new ideas. Many people have founded successful marriages on these principles — and successful businesses, too. But governments and other big organizations? “Not bloody likely,” to quote Eliza Doolittle.
Which brings us to the current occupants of City Hall and their quest to balance the city’s budget. Those with the most power at City Hall seem to approach things ideologically, and not with openness, transparency or the consideration of new ideas.
To save money, they hired a big company with little knowledge of city government. It was a fruitless exercise, proposing a general strategy of chopping away indiscriminately at services.
Police chief Bill Blair entered the fray by threatening to cut 1,000 officers, a rough-and-ready, slash-and-burn approach that did nothing to instill confidence in how the police force is managed.
But, as those who pay close and critical attention to the spending of the Toronto Police Service know, a fresh look shows that ridiculous things have become standard practice there, and, if changed, could save considerable sums.
Look at the shifts that police work. Currently, there are three shifts a day: a 10-hour day shift, a 10-hour evening shift and an eight-hour night shift — adding up to 28 hours for every 24-hour period. Other police forces in Canada don’t have overlapping shifts, nor do other city services. Three eight-hour shifts each day would result in no loss in service to the public and would result in savings of 15 per cent of the total police salary of $750 million, or about $100 million a year.
Or look at the standard Toronto practice of two officers in every squad car after dark. It’s been in place since the late 1970s when an arbitrator said it must be done.
There is no evidence that one-officer cars are more dangerous than two-officer cars; in fact, the reverse may be true since single officers don’t take the chances that two do.
The RCMP does not use two-officer cars after dark, nor do the Halifax or Ottawa forces, and the practice in Vancouver and Edmonton is not required. No one has ever suggested that policing is second class in those cities.
Two-officer cars may be useful in some areas, but if we dispensed with two-officer cars in half the neighbourhoods, we would save close to another $100 million. Those are two suggestions for saving money by looking carefully how money is spent and then asking questions.
Sadly, the Toronto Police Services Board and city hall have not been willing to do that, and this particular brand of gravy did not interest Mayor Ford when raised early this year. In June, a few weeks before the Police Services Board was to ratify a new four-year collective agreement with the Toronto Police Association, the board was asked to amend the agreement so that these two ridiculous ideas were not written in stone for another four years.
The members of the board refused to listen and instead agreed that, for the next four years, shifts would guarantee 28 hours work for officers in every 24-hour period and mandatory two-officer cars in Toronto after dark. Which means that savings of about $200 million a year — savings that would not have required any cuts in service to the public — will not be achieved this year.
It’s a sad story about the costs of ridiculous ideas that have become such standard practice that they aren’t noticed by those charged with making good decisions. It’s the cost of local decision making that’s not open, transparent or challenged by new ideas.
Post City Magazines’ columnist John Sewell is a former mayor of Toronto and the author of a number of urban planning books including The Shape of Suburbs.