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Toronto police board rebuffs chief on budget hike, ‘street checks’

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair attends an editorial board meeting, July 31, 2012, at the Globe and Mail to discuss the recent spate of gun crime in the city.

Galit Rodan/The Globe and Mail

Toronto's Police Services Board is pushing back against Chief Bill Blair on two fronts, refusing to accept his request for a 2.3-per-cent budget increase and demanding to see the paperwork and information collected when officers stop individuals on the street.

Members of the civilian oversight body asked Chief Blair to do more work on the two contentious files at a meeting Wednesday that included a string of public presentations raising questions about a new initiative to issue receipts to civilians involved in "street checks" by police.

In the case of the 2013 budget, board members asked Chief Blair to sharpen his pencil and come back next month, handing him a list of areas to look for savings that included contracting out, shutting stations after business hours where there is low public demand and suspending uniform recruitment for 2013.

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The board also endorsed a plan to ask for concessions from the police association, including the elimination or reduction of two-officer patrols by June, 2013, and changes to shift schedules.

The city has asked all departments and agencies to flatline their budgets for 2013, but Chief Blair warned a spending freeze would mean layoffs and cuts to front-line programs. Instead, he proposed a $949.1-million budget – $21.3-million, or 2.3 per cent, above the city's target.

While acknowledging there is room for negotiation, Councillor Frances Nunziata said she believes more savings can be found. "We are going to try to get as close to zero per cent [as possible], but what is before us today is unacceptable," she said.

Wednesday's faceoff is reminiscent of last year's debate over police spending, one that ended with a visit to Mayor Rob Ford's office by the chief and an easing of austerity demands.

This year is different, said Councillor Michael Thompson, board vice-chair. The board is "more determined," he said and the mayor's office remains firm in its budget demands.

Mike McCormack, president of the police union, said in an interview his association is willing to entertain the board's proposals on opening up the existing contract. "I'd like to hear what they have to say," he said, adding any suggested changes to shifts or patrols needs to include research on how it would affect policing.

Chief Blair was not swayed by the board's suggestions. "It can't be done," he said when asked if he could find the savings without layoffs. "I would invite you all to look at the numbers. You can't dispute the math."

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Board members also asked for more information about police procedures when stopping individuals on the street. A new program to issue receipts to those involved in street checks, set to begin Dec.1, was postponed so board members and the public could review the slips. The board also went one step further, asking to see the forms used by officers to gather information on the people they stop.

The request came after several members of the public urged the board to look at police conduct and the reasons behind the checks, as well as at the plans to issue the new receipts. The board made the request over the advice of Chief Blair who describes it as an operational matter that goes beyond the board's mandate to set policy.

"I think it is important to understand the rational for the questions that are being asked, how that information is utilized," Mr. Thompson said. "It's about helping police do their business, but we want to make sure that their business is done in a way," he added, that is fair, unbiased and constitutional.

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