Deputy mayor Doug Holyday predicts the Ford administration won’t flinch from changing paid-duty rules to save the city millions of dollars, even if the cash comes out of police officers’ pockets.
“Two million dollars is an awful lot of money — if we’re going to find money for the next (budget), it’s going to be in amounts like that, a lot of them,” Holyday said in an interview Friday.
“The city should use paid duty police officers if absolutely necessary but, if it’s set up just to pay people, that’s not right and we have to change it.”
Holyday made the comments Friday after the Star revealed the conclusions of a draft of the audit of paid duty work — after-hours police duty at construction sites, events and the like — being prepared by city auditor-general Jeffrey Griffiths.
The auditor concludes that rules requiring paid duty officers for unnecessary tasks, such as attending some roadwork, directly cost Toronto taxpayers as much as $2 million each year.
The findings mirror a December 2009 Star investigation that found private companies, taxpayers and community groups were forced to waste millions of dollars hiring paid duty officers for jobs that could be done by crossing guards or even orange pylons.
The auditor also found that Toronto’s paid duty hours and costs are “disproportionately high” compared with those in other communities, and some officers have let paid duty interfere with their regular police shifts.
Councillor Pam McConnell, who championed a review of paid duty while on the Toronto Police Services Board, said the $2 million in city costs is only a small slice of the real cost to taxpayers.
“The paid duty fees were $29 million in 2009 and we all paid about $20 million of that through charges to the city, the province, utility bills, construction costs, housing, TTC and Hydro,” McConnell said.
She noted it is city bylaws, not police department rules, that compel much of the unnecessary use, and predicted that Mayor Rob Ford — who has said he will cut city costs, but wants more police on the streets — will have to act.
“I can’t imagine that, faced with a $750 million (2012 budget) shortfall, they won’t look at something like this,” she said.
Special events organizers, compelled by city rules to hire multiple police officers, have lobbied city hall for relief.
John Kiru, head of the umbrella group for neighbourhood merchants’ groups that stage more than 100 events across Toronto, said “paid duty absolutely takes a bite out of our budgets.”
Kiru said Police Chief Bill Blair has committed to reviewing the requirements and, with the auditor-general’s findings, he’s hopeful the city’s rules will be changed in time for the many events planned for this summer.
The final report from Griffiths is expected to be released this spring.
Blair initially blasted the Star series on paid duty as “nonsense,” arguing that having more officers on the street increases police visibility and makes the city safer.