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Plan for Toronto police overhaul is outsourcing by another name: DiManno

As things stand now, primary response units — cops in cars — answer all calls regardless of the level of priority so those calls stack up. Those responders must “resolve the call in its entirety,” as the report notes, from assessing immediate safety concerns to evidence collection and submission of reports. “This can be time consuming, and reduces the availability of officers to respond to other calls for service.”

In other words, calls more important than yours.

About two million calls to the TPS communications centre were received last year, out of which approximately 675,000 were calls for service, “where a police response was requested but not strictly necessary,” resulting in 445,000 officer-dispatched incidents.

Those calling for help deemed not strictly necessary — vehicle damage, property damage, thefts under $5,000, bicycle thefts, graffiti and driving complaints — were urged to make their pleas via telephone reporting or on the department’s existing online reporting portal. The portal option is either unknown to complainants or unpopular.

We’ve all grown up with 911 drilled into our heads. Trouble — call a cop.

Now, if the report’s recommendations are put into practice, they don’t want you to call a cop. Or, at the very least, they don’t want you to necessarily expect a cop who will investigate the matter. Instead, the response would be shifted to something — its makeup still undetermined — called an Investigative Support Unit. Maybe a constable, maybe not, also undetermined at this point. Maybe just a city-employed civvy — and you can imagine what impact he/she would have on, as an example, your next-door neighbours blasting music at 3 a.m.

Alternative policing, essentially; pseudo-cops on your TPS app.

This, purportedly, will actually speed up response, reporting and resolution.

As if. Nothing in the report quantifiably backs up that claim.

It’s outsourcing by another name, like dealing with a customer service call-centre and we all know the frustration that entails. So, even as we expect police officers to do more, by turning them into quasi social workers, we apparently must resign ourselves into the looming reality of law enforcement being less available when we need them most. Because our needs are, well, nagging and of minor consequence; such a damn imposition.

Most cops are not detectives. They don’t investigate major crimes. They do the donkey work of policing, which is where most of the public intersects with law enforcement. It should be considered valuable work rather than a waste of their time. Yet the report’s authors — resulting from a task force co-chaired by Chief Mark Saunders and services board chair Andy Pringle — clearly view it as wasteful. Their modernized police force would replace curbside cop service with bureaucratic widgets.

At the same time, however, the fiscally-slammed TPS, ordered by city council to trim its billion dollar budget by about $100 million, wants to get its hands on 911 user fees. Did you even know there was such a thing? Probably not, unless scouring your phone bill, although often these fees — similar to operator charges that were once free — are usually lumped into monthly charges on your bill. They don’t appear as per-call charges. That monthly fee can range from 14 cents on a landline to 75 cents on a wireless phone.

Millions of phone lines.

Recommendation 23 from the report: Implementing a cost recovery fee that would recoup the cost of providing these services to all land and wireless telephone users.

“That money does not come back to the public safety answering point, which is the TPS, for the city of Toronto,” explains Tracy Finn, 911 co-ordinator for the police communications centre. “None of the funding that is collected from 911 in Ontario comes back to provide the funding for 911.”

Only Ontario and Manitoba have systems which fail to recoup 911 fees, money which at this time goes to the service carrier. Altering the format would require legislative changes at Queen’s Park and likely CRTC involvement.

“We’re interested in exploring that,” says Finn. “There’s been conversation with the city manager because more research is needed to go forward,” says Finn. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like at this point.”

How much money raked in, potentially? “No idea.”

One final note, to underscore how out of step the Toronto Police Service is with these technological times: Officers still make their notes in traditional paper memo books, as they have since the mid-19th century, which now have to be entered manually into desktop computers back at the station.

The report proposes that all officers be issued with smart mobile devices within the next two to three years and not just for the purpose of note-taking but to access data and analytics. Right now many cops are using their personal phones.

Tasers, guns, batons, cuffs, body-cameras, radios — but no itsy-bitsy company-issued cellphone? Hello?

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

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