May 16, 2014
Paid-duty service by police officers has become a controversial topic in Toronto for a variety of reasons. Now you can add free parking to the list.
Recently, police Chief Bill Blair received several complaints of flagrant parking violations by paid-duty officers where the officers displayed police paraphernalia — such as notebooks, safety vests and business cards — on their dashboard to ensure that fellow officers or other officials do not give them parking citations.
Some of the officers had parked beside no parking signs, causing consternation by members of the public. Others have parked in municipal parking spaces without paying.
Last week, the National Post discovered an officer on Bloor Street East parked in a street parking spot with a photocopied Toronto Police Service logo and the words “Paid Duty Officer” written beside it. This is believed to be a common practice among paid-duty officers, who are providing security for city construction projects, private events, festivals and sports venues during their off-duty hours.
A spokesman for the Toronto Police Service acknowledged that members of the public have made complaints about police officers parking illegally while on their paid-duty assignments, and said the allegations have prompted investigations.
“Police officers on paid-duty are subject to the same traffic and parking laws as anyone else,” said Mark Pugash. “There is no excuse for it. If they have parked illegally they will be held accountable.”
Mr. Pugash said the Toronto Police Service would disqualify its officers from working paid duties for a fixed amount of time if they are ignoring parking bylaws.
“It can be a significant period of time,” he said, declining to specify how long these officers would be prevented from working paid duties. “There also is a disciplinary step taken against them that becomes part of their record.”
But Mr. Pugash said this punishment carries a heavy weight financially.
“If you’re used to doing paid duties and you can’t do paid duties, you forfeit the money you would have got.”
Many are critical of Toronto’s paid-duty system, for which the officers received $68 an hour this year, up from $66.50, when working at least three hours. Parking for free, particularly during downtown assignments, would add to the financial benefits for paid-duty officers.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack won’t defend officers who ignore parking rules. “The laws are the laws when parking vehicles and police officers are not above the law,” he said. “If they get a ticket then it’s the same as anybody else.”
He does defend paid-duty in general, saying the pay is based on standard overtime rates and falls in the middle of the pack compared to other municipalities.
City projects make up just 9% of paid duty work, with the rest being private, he said.
“It’s a private event and they want to pay for it, so why shouldn’t off-duty officers do that? It’s no burden to the taxpayer,” he said. “They’re the ones hiring the police officers. We’re not going out soliciting the business, but we provide professional service and on a cost-benefit analysis it works for everybody.”
He said it doesn’t make sense to hire private security companies instead of police officers who are trained and can provide liability management for the city and private companies.
But Councillor Josh Matlow said private security companies could do the same job for almost half the price, and just as adequately.
“There’s no reason why professional police officers are needed to simply stand and provide basic security around a work site or event,” he said. “Nothing frustrates people like seeing a police officer making $65 to $68 an hour standing next to a public work site. We often hear from the police chief that we have a dearth of officers doing the work that police need to do everyday. That’s where people want to see police officers working.”
Mr. Matlow said he has a problem with police officers working purely for their own financial benefit while in uniform.
“When we teach our kids about Toronto police officers, we teach them that that badge and that uniform reflects a person who is in a position of authority and is serving the public interest,” he said. “I don’t believe that uniform should be used for solely one’s own private income.”
Mr. Matlow said not enough has been done by council to limit the amount of paid duty work officers are allowed to accept, despite requests made to change the system.
In 2011, auditor general Jeffrey Griffiths recommended the city reduce the criteria which requires a police officer to supervise a city construction project, estimating this would save the city about $2-million.
The audit also found instances in which police didn’t attend court appearances, which is part of their regular duty, to work a paid-duty assignment.
Mr. Matlow said he will be bringing forward a motion at the upcoming audit committee meeting May 28 to ask staff for an update on efforts to reduce paid-duty assignments.
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