David Barker Maltby
How would you like to stand in traffic on a cold day for 10 hours? And what if it meant you also had to endure the mutterings of the occasional passerby complaining you were sucking up our tax dollars? No? Doesn't appeal?
But what if you walked away with $600 at the end of the day?
Then you would be an off-duty police officer working "paid duty" crowd and traffic control contract jobs for community groups, film crews, construction companies and the city. And by the way, most of the time you wouldn't actually be paid from the tax trough.
Still, do we need trained peace officers to stand by traffic barricades or stare contemplatively into the abyss of manholes? The question's been kicking around for a long time in the cash-strapped city, but on January 22, the Police Services Board took a leap and asked the city to review bylaws and regulations that make paid duty mandatory.
The fact is, this unexamined spending is more the fault of bureaucratic stultification than of greedy police officers.
Which isn't to say it's not a plum racket. In 2007, officers collected $24 million for paid duty, most from private enterprises required by the city to have a police presence. An educated guess would put the city share at just under a quarter.
City Hall's Transportation, Technical Services, and Economic Development & Tourism divisions handed over $2.9 million to paid duty cops. And while the TTC's payout is harder to specify, the police board estimated in 2005 that 36 officers were required at any given time for TTC construction.
All this means the city likely spends around $5 million each year on paid duty - suggesting the possibility of big savings if officials reviewed the practice of employing armed overseers to keep citizens from walking under backhoes.
If the city and police officers feel like milking film crews, that's their business - and we'll leave aside for now the distasteful corollary that those with the resources can buy themselves some policing.
More worrisome is the fact that non-profit groups organizing street fairs and the like must also foot the bill for security details, needed or not.
Though the city applies the rule, it can't make adjustments for the cultural value of events, or organizers' ability to pay, since the police union determines the rate of pay.
Again, though, it's not the police force demanding that paid-duty officers be present. It's city officials who turn down film shoot or road closure permits unless applicants rent a cop or two. And it's bylaws that require paid-duty officers on construction sites, something that will likely continue until the various road bylaws of the megacity are "harmonized."
Chief Bill Blair pointed out at the meeting that there's much to recommend Toronto's system; most other large forces don't regulate paid duty, so off-duty officers often work, in uniform, at bars and strip clubs. "Those things happen unsupervised," he said. "This is a managed system."
Fair enough. But the city's using it to over-manage itself. Now that the police board has asked for a review of the regulations, the next level of debate will no doubt focus on who should be assigned safety patrol. The board has already nixed the concept of a special paid-duty police unit. So stay tuned.
"The city has bylaws that are out of date," said councillor and board vice-chair Pam McConnell.
"When you're driving down a provincial highway, a person with a flag waves you down to let you know there's construction. When you're driving down a road in Toronto at 40 km/h, we require a police officer."