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Police board gives Chief Blair 2-year option for budget cut

Police Chief Bill Blair is spurning demands to slash Toronto's police budget by 10 per cent, staking his badge on protecting the force from cutbacks that have buffeted every other city department.

At a special police board meeting on Wednesday, Chief Blair stood firm in his request for a 1.5 per cent increase to the Toronto police budget, saying anything less would disrupt public safety.

In standing by his 1.5 per cent proposal first released on Friday, Chief Blair is choosing to ignore warnings from board vice-chair Michael Thompson that the chief's failure to make substantial budget trims could be a fireable offence.

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In response to the chief's defiance, the board approved a hard target of reducing the police operating budget by 10 per cent in 2012, which effectively compels Chief Blair to submit a budget he cannot personally endorse.

"I can submit a budget that tells you how to do that, but I have to tell you that I cannot recommend that in good conscience because of the impact it would have on public safety," Chief Blair said, before several board members talked over him.

During the meeting, the chief and his staff laid out how carving 10 per cent from the police budget would result in 920 layoffs -- 650 uniformed and 270 civilian -- compromising the force's ability to keep Toronto's streets safe.

The board offered him some wiggle room, passing another motion that could buy them two years to meet the 10 per cent target. Every other city agency has been asked to perform the trim in one.

"We have to keep in mind the requirements of the Police Service Act which other agencies don't," the board chair explained when asked why Toronto Police should be exempt from the demands placed on other departments.

Both moves force Chief Blair to formalize in writing the doomsday scenario he has been verbalizing for months, of having to lay off hundreds of officers, something he does not have the authority to do without the consent of the board and city council.

Some board members believe the chief's threat of 1,000 layoffs is a bluff and want to see a more thorough analysis.

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Dr. Mukherjee, in particular, said the chief has overlooked dozens of trims he could make before reverting to layoffs. He has recommended that the chief return uniformed members to policing functions so that cheaper civilians take over most desk functions; reduce his senior ranks; reorganize its shift schedule; explore moving to single-officer patrols; and outsource some departments.

The board has the sole authority to set the force's budget, but cannot direct the chief's operational decisions.

The chief must submit a revised budget by Oct. 13. Dr. Mukherjee refused to speculate what would happen if Chief Blair disobeys the board's order for a 10 per cent cut.

On Wednesday, the chief's staff ran through a PowerPoint presentation that gave the impression the force has already been cut to the bone. In reaching his 1.5 per cent proposal, Chief Blair reduced 19 management positions, extended a hiring freeze and slashed premium pay by 10 per cent to arrive at the budget request.

The police budget has swelled by $267-million since 2004, but 71 per cent of that increase is attributable to ballooning contract agreements between the board and the Toronto police force's union, negotiations over which the chief has no power.

"It's not an easy situation for the chief," said Dr. Mukherjee. "But I think there's work to be done."

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On Monday, Mr. Blair tried to avert a showdown with the board by meeting with Mayor Rob Ford to request a reprieve from the mayor's demand for 10 per cent cuts from every government department. Mr. Ford turned down the request and told Mr. Blair to settle the matter with his board.

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About the Author
National reporter

Patrick previously worked in the Globe's Winnipeg bureau, covering the Prairies and Nunavut, and at Toronto City Hall. He is a National Magazine Award recipient and author of the book Mountie In Mukluks. More

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