The police services board meeting last week at City Hall - an experiment in doing business in neutral citizen space away from the police den at 40 College - was pregnant with signs of the new moment. You could see it in the huffy complaint of Chief Julian Fantino, sitting directly across the horseshoe table from me. "I've been a police chief in three different jurisdictions since 1991,' he sniffs. "I don't see what the problem is.'
He's referring to the almost unprecedented request to trim his budget by $20 million - a budget he actually wants to increase by $57 million. And to the board's probe for more info on how police spend their dough, so it - and citizens at a public meeting on March 22 - can make constructive suggestions about how to spend the mammoth $690 budget more wisely.
But this contretemps is about more than cash. Between the lines there's another, perhaps even more significant story that centres on the weighty question of whether the cops should be treated as a department like any other.
Of course, garbage collectors don't carry guns. And the cops operate under provincial legislation, the Police Services Act, which says, among other things, that police boards can appeal to the province if city council doesn't give them enough money.
That's the law, but then there's political reality. Let's see the police try to make a case that their budget - which equals the city's contribution to the TTC, fire, ambulance, children's services and seniors homes combined - is not sufficient.
Of course, Fantino does play the Police Services Act card at the Thursday, February 26, meeting, reminding the board of the limits of its power. "You know the rules,' he tells them. Besides which, he says, the Toronto board gets as much info as any other board.
But board member John Filion wants the same level of detail he's seen in budgets from the TTC and other city departments. He's proposed a motion to that effect and is surprised at the resistance he's getting from Fantino's sycophants, board members Case Ootes and Benson Lau.
"I thought it was a simple matter, and suddenly there's a big kerfuffle that I'm attacking the service,' says the mild-mannered Willowdale councillor. "I find the reaction to a very simple motion disturbing.'
But board members Alan Heisey and Pam McConnell raise their hands with Filion, and the motion passes.
Fantino tries the same police-are-unique manoeuvre on another agenda item - future meetings at City Hall. Once again, he fails.
McConnell has fought to move these meetings out of police headquarters, a move calculated to break down the division between law enforcement and the rest of the city apparatus. The chief has responded with a four-page single-spaced letter listing all the reasons why that would not be a good idea.
Along with his concerns about materials for the confidential portion of board meetings falling into the wrong hands, the chief also makes a point of principle. The board is established under the provincial Police Services Act and "therefore is independent and separate' from city council, he states. "If all the board meetings were to be held at City Hall, then the perception of the public might be that policing is a department of the city such as works or some other similar entity.'
There was a time when a plea to the special place of law enforcement might have worked, but the cops have suffered their share of reputational wounds recently, most of them self-inflicted. First, it was public outrage at the crude politicking by the Police Association and even the chief, who cozied up to pro-cop John Tory in the mayoral campaign. Now there's the biggest corruption scandal in Toronto police history.
A powerful reminder of the toll that corruption has taken on public esteem comes in a presentation by retired judge George Ferguson on the alleged thefts, frauds and conspiracy in the police drug squad. "Negative press appears to have caused a change in the public's perception of Toronto's Finest,' Ferguson writes in his report, using a blame-the-media strategy commonly indulged in by the chief.
His Honour has a number of tough recommendations, among them that officers who want to be assigned to or promoted in "high-risk' areas such as drug squads be required to submit to drug testing. The blue line between cops and the rest of us is getting pretty thin indeed.