Toronto Star, Feb. 29, 2004. 08:39 AM
Toronto police costs under microscope, conference told
Board member hints at budget standoff
Funeral travel expenses on the table
LEGAL AFFAIRS REPORTER
Everything from police court costs to money spent on police funerals could be on the table in a showdown over Chief Julian Fantino's nearly $700 million budget request, the police services board vice-chair said yesterday.
The board wants more detailed information about where police are spending their money so it can look for ways to use officers more effectively, board vice-chair Pam McConnell told the Law Union of Ontario's 30th annual conference.
"Ninety per cent (of the police budget) goes to salaries, yes, but we need to make more effective use of these people," said McConnell, a councillor for Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale).
She was part of a panel discussion on police, politics and accountability.
The board may want to look at what shifts officers are working and how much time they're spending in court, she said.
As another example, McConnell said the board might want to consider how much, if any, of the police budget is used to pay for officers to attend funerals of slain colleagues in other parts of Canada or the world, as well as on police funerals at home.
"When you open up a budget, you can have those discussions," she said in an interview.
McConnell didn't know how much police spend on funerals.
Fantino showed up at the board earlier this year with a four-page request for $691.57 million 9 an increase of $57 million. It's now down to $678.8 million and the board has given Fantino until Tuesday to produce more detail.
The board's approach is not likely to be embraced by the Toronto Police Association, McConnell added. In fact, she fully expects a replay of the battle that erupted last fall when the union endorsed Toronto mayoralty candidate John Tory and several councillors in what critics say was a
violation of the Police Services Act.
"That fight will push into a debate on the budget," she predicted.
Police say they spend about five hours on every domestic dispute, said panellist John Sewell, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Commission and a former Toronto mayor,
Maybe others, like social workers, should deal with some of the aftermath once the criminal investigation is complete, he suggested.
McConnell's comments about funerals were triggered by a question from a woman attending the conference, who asked if any of the police budget goes to cover the costs of Toronto officers who go to police funerals as part of a mass display of solidarity that can seem "over the top."
"That's a very good question," McConnell replied.
The police funeral as a phenomenon has been "studied a lot" all over the world and the tradition of marshalling officers is "a deliberate strategy" and show of force, she noted.
"It would be a very interesting exercise to talk about when officers should appear in uniform and under what circumstances," she said. "The spectacle would change rather remarkably if the badge was not shown."
It's "really an exploitation of a tragedy for law enforcement ends," added Toronto lawyer Edward Sapiano, another panel member. "The funeral is taken over by strangers."
Sapiano is the lawyer whose database of client allegations against Toronto police drug officers sparked an RCMP-led investigation which resulted in charges against six former drug squad officers. When the investigation began, Fantino also asked retired Ontario judge George Ferguson into investigate how police can prevent misconduct.
Ferguson's 33-point plan was released this week
Sapiano said Ferguson's report makes some "wonderful" recommendations, such as limiting the time an officer spends on the drug squad, but those dealing with police misconduct are "entirely inadequate."
One involves moving the internal affairs unit out of police headquarters to strengthen its independence. The move could lead to the unit functioning as a substitute for independent civilian oversight of police, said Sapiano.
Ferguson also recommends civilians alleging mistreatment by police be given information about any past misconduct, but his plan creates a double standard which treats police like "superior human beings," Sapiano said.
The information will only be provided if there is a written request. But if a civilian is charged with a crime, his or her criminal record is automatically turned over to prosecutors, he said.
There are also no provisions for disclosing complaints against officers that don't result in findings of guilt.
But it would be very helpful if a complainant knew an officer had been accused of similar misconduct in the past, he said.
"The recommendations made by Ferguson are entirely deficient because they are premised on the Police Services Act working fine and police officers being convicted."