Toronto cops: in crisis? Uhh… no

Toronto's police union has launched a PR blitz to fight police modernization efforts. Its website attempts to stir up public sympathy.

Toronto’s cops are over-worked,
Are 95 police resignations cause for concern? Absolutely, yes. Because there are far too few of them.

Consider: there are, according to the union, about 5,100 police officers in Toronto. 95 represents 1.8 per cent of 5,100.  Let’s assume that number doubles over the balance of the year to 3.6 per cent. How much attrition should Toronto Police Service experience.

Judging by management science and best-practices in the leadership and management of high performance organizations, an annual attrition rate of 10 to 15 per cent per year is about normal. That’s three to four times higher than attrition in the Toronto Police Service. So, lower attrition is better, right? Wrong.

Toronto Police need more – not fewer – cops resigning each year

When attrition is too low, there is too little opportunity for promotion and career enrichment. A healthy organization sheds poorer performers at every pay-level, making room for high performers to move up into more responsible (and usually better paying) positions. This enhances job satisfaction, keeps people from getting stale, and creates opportunities for employees to earn more money by performing better and being promoted.

When attrition is too low, it means organizations are holding onto their deadwood – blocking opportunities for high performers to move up and get paid more. It becomes necessary to pay people more for doing the same job – discouraging peak performance and increasing labour costs without any tangible benefit to the organization. This is the trap Toronto’s police service and, in fact, the entire City of Toronto, is in now.

With a force structure of about 5,000 uniformed officers, about 500 of them should leave every year. The challenge for the police chief is to encourage the lower-performers at each rank level to leave. This will create a much healthier, performance-oriented organization that is more nimble, more effective, more affordable and performs better.

Update: Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack informed me Friday that 95 represents just the number of police officers who’ve resigned this year. When you add the number who’ve retired, the total attrition so far in 2017 is about 175. That brings their attrition up to 3.4 per cent for the half year or 6.8 per cent per annum. That’s much closer to a normal attrition rate – it could stand to be higher, but it’s certainly no cause for alarm.

The union, however, is concerned that those officers who are departing are not being replaced. They feel there are not enough officers to properly police the city. The Chief of Police, whose job it is to keep Toronto safe, disagrees. He told morning show host John Moore on NEWSTALK1010 last week that his officers didn’t seem “burned out,” “over-stressed” or demoralized to him, pointing out that officers are still volunteering for extra “paid duty” assignments. Although I have been critical of the Chief, in this regard, I think he’s right. Despite asking the Toronto Police Service at least three times during my short stint in the Mayor’s Office, City Council has never (to my knowledge) received an answer to its question: “how many police officers does Toronto need?” Over the years, officers have been added to the service, not because there was a demonstrated need – but, because a series of provincial and federal governments have offered millions of dollars to the city to hire more officers as part of vote-buying programs. Thus, the service has grown.

The police service & the police union have different goals

The Toronto Police union is unlikely to agree with me. But, it’s important to remember the difference between their mandate and that of the police service. The mission of the Toronto Police Service is to serve and protect the people of Toronto. The mission of the police union is to promote the best interests of its members. That’s not to say Toronto cops are entirely self-interested. They’re not. Men and women are generally attracted to policing because they have a bonafide desire to help people. But, their union leaders get paid to help the cops – not the citizens of Toronto.

And, the union’s leadership are paid from a budget that is largely drawn from dues paid by members. The more members there are, the more money their is to pay the union leaders. When the service gets smaller, the people of the city may benefit – but the amount of money available to pay leaders like Mike McCormack gets smaller.

Mike McCormack and his executive are very, very good at their jobs. But, it’s important to remember, that job is not keeping the city safe. That job is protecting and promoting the best interests of the dues-paying members of the union.

In this case, though, a higher turnover rate in the Toronto Police would allow more high performing officers to achieve their career ambitions, be recognized for their performance with higher rank, higher pay and greater responsibilities. The police service could weed out the deadwood and become a better performing organization, all while keeping its budget under better control. It’s a win-win for police officers, the city and the public.