Councillor Josh Matlow

Toronto Star: Paid-duty policing’s ‘outrageous’ costs slammed by critics

May 11th, 2014

Betsy Powell

Toronto Star

Last year, 3,047 off-duty cops earned $26.1 million for performing 51,526 jobs. That's up from $24.2 million in 2009.

While off-duty Toronto police officers who moonlight for the city and private organizations are getting a pay hike this year, critics scoff paid-duty policing is unnecessary and a waste of money.

“It’s also giving money to people who are already employed and well-paid,” said Councillor Pam McConnell, a former vice-chair of the Toronto Police Services Board.

“Nobody can tell me why we need police officers standing at the Blue Jays game when they’re looking up at the crowd doing seventh inning stretch and why you couldn’t have ordinary security guards doing that.”

Councillor Josh Matlow concurred, calling it “outrageous.”

“I don’t know any city in North America that allows itself to be hijacked by this,” he said. “When we see an officer standing next to a construction or public works site, it’s frustrating because we all know it’s not needed.”

On Friday, the Star reported the number of Toronto police officers being hired for off-duty assignments has soared, despite the city’s efforts to reduce or eliminate the need for paid-duty policing.

Last year, 3,047 off-duty cops earned $26.1 million for performing 51,526 jobs ranging from “traffic control” on construction sites to providing security for community events. That’s an increase from 2009 when 3,700 officers picked up 40,919 freelance assignments for a total bill of $24.2 million.

Paid-duty assignments originate from a wide variety of sources, including private organizations, construction companies, utilities and special event organizers, along with city agencies such as Toronto Hydro, the TTC and some city divisions.

This year, officers doing this work are getting a pay increase. For a minimum of three hours, constables will receive $68 an hour, up from $66.50, according to a letter from the Toronto Police Association included in the agenda for Thursday’s board meeting. Nearly 3,000 Toronto cops and civilian employees earned $100,000 or more last year, not including paid duty.

According to TPS, costs associated with requests made directly by city departments and agencies have decreased, from $2.5 million in 2010 to $1.9 million last year. Nevertheless, the bill continues to grow though the police say they can’t explain why.

“The service does not question the requestor on why a paid duty is required nor who is ultimately paying the bill,” reads a “briefing note” prepared by Chief Bill Blair for the board that’s included on this week’s agenda.

A city spokeswoman, in an email, writes that “the level and location of construction activity and road work can affect the need for paid duty policing.”

Yet McConnell says while the city, in response to the auditor’s recommendations, changed paid-duty requirements three years ago, these new “crystal clear” rules are being overlooked.

“Torontonians are paying for this one way or another,” McConnell said. “If your condominium uses paid duty, that is included in the selling cost of your unit. If the road closure and repaving of a road is done by an outside construction company, they include the paid duty in the cost to the city.”

Festivals across Toronto are also being affected by high paid duty, McConnell said. Last month, some councillors balked when they saw the estimated cost for paid-duty officers during the Open Streets program – a proposal to close Bloor Street to cars for four Sundays this summer from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. The TPS said they would need 250 police officers to handle the event at a cost of $839,092.

A report prepared by the TPS to explain why paid-duty — and not regularly scheduled members of the service — would be needed. Police officers “have already adapted vacation times and family commitments to support current city events and commitments” and “the remaining front line policing services will already be significantly impacted during the summer, especially in light of the reduced staffing levels.” The summer is also the busiest time of the year.

Kevin Beaulieu, executive director of this year’s World Pride festival, June 20-29, said Friday organizers are working with the city and police to ensure the safety and security of participants. He played down paid-duty policing costs.

“It’s a cost, it’s a pressure, but there is a dialogue, it’s not arbitrary, we’re involved in the process and work through any issues related to it.”

Christian Leuprecht, a politics professor at the Royal Military College of Canada, said the paid-duty phenomenon is “puzzling.”

“In many Quebec municipalities civilian security guards who work for the city do the exact same job at a fraction of the costs,” says Leuprecht, author of a recently published paper called The Blue Line or the Bottom Line of Policing in Canada?

“There’s a simple reason why police insist on billing for these tasks: this is all paid as overtime and police have come to ‘expect’ a certain amount of overtime as part of their compensation package. In effect, it’s a salary subsidy,” he wrote in email.

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