TORONTO — An overwhelming majority of Toronto police union members who voted over the past week in a symbolic poll expressed a lack of confidence in the city's chief of police — although fewer than half took part in the online survey.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack says 86 per cent of those who voted in the week-long survey expressed no confidence in Chief Mark Saunders as the union fights efforts to trim the service's staffing numbers. Only 14 per cent said they had confidence in the chief.
Around 47 per cent of the association's roughly 8,000 uniformed and civilian members actually voted, McCormack said Thursday.
"Over 2,600 people saying, 'We've lost confidence, we feel that the direction is wrong,' you can't dismiss that," McCormack said after announcing the results. "All we have is a police services board dismissive of these concerns."
The union has complained about what it calls personnel cuts to the country's third-largest police force, which has an annual budget of $1 billion. Staffing shortages have resulted in some people waiting for hours for police to respond to emergency calls, the association has said.
"The association board of directors looks forward to hearing from Chief Saunders in response to the membership's vote of no confidence in his ability to lead the Toronto Police Service," the union said in a statement. "We are willing to work together with the chief provided he is committed to finding tangible solutions to the staffing crisis that is impacting the health, wellness and safety of our members and the community."
Saunders did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the vote.
The union has no power to remove Saunders — something only the police services board can do.
In a statement, the board said it "fully and unequivocally" supports Saunders and said the vote would not achieve anything positive.
"We understand that the Toronto Police Association strongly prefers the status quo," the board said. "Notwithstanding this reluctance to help bring about necessary change and modernization, we continue to seek opportunities to work constructively with the (association)."
Mayor John Tory, who sits on the board, recently expressed "total confidence" in Saunders.
"We are going through a necessary period of modernization of policing and the police service and any time you bring about change, it causes anxieties," Tory said earlier this month.
Toronto police are in the process of hiring more than 80 new officers and a "significant" number of 911 operators, Tory said.
But McCormack said Thursday the new hires would not plug what he called the growing number of staffing holes.
"We lost 232 uniformed positions last year," McCormack said. "So far this year, 102 have left."