Marathons. Music festivals. Street parties. Parades. Movie shoots. Cranes.
Toronto has no shortage of events and signs that herald a vibrant global city, yet, they come with traffic, crowd control and public safety challenges.
A hefty price tag for paid-duty policing and a limited supply of officers is straining the limits of both police and event organizers, according to a city report that warns it will only become more challenging as the city continues to grow.
The report — the result of a unanimously-endorsed motion by Toronto city council in March to direct the city manager to meet with police to discuss the issue — was presented at the city’s executive committee Thursday, just as the city reaches the height of the summer festival season.
It landed short of expectations.
The committee sent the report back to city staff for more work, including a survey of business improvement areas (BIAs), event organizers and other stakeholders on issues associated with putting on events, as well as identify factors that have driven up costs.
The original motion, put forward by Councillor Ana Bailao, had asked for a report on paid-duty policing and street festivals, many of which are organized by BIAs, but the report identifies other stakeholders in need of security, such as event planners and the film industry all affected by what it called a “significant” city issue.
Have Your Say!
The Toronto Police Service uses a “risk-based” approach to assessing security requirements, the report said. “Based on this assessment,” states the report, “enhanced security requirements, such as an increase in police presence and other barriers, are often requested by either the (the police service) and/or event organizers.”
The result, the report states, has police, the city and organizers “facing planning, resource (people and equipment) and funding pressures.”
The report did not set out how these risk assessments are done.
“Nobody understands that,” said Bailao, councillor for Ward 9 Davenport. “I asked for further clarification because that report didn’t say much.”
Paula Fletcher, councillor for Ward 14 Toronto-Danforth, wants more transparency and a better explanation of how the number of required paid-duty officers is determined, from one event to another. Her ward is home to many festivals, including the popular Taste of the Danforth, coming up in August.
Some BIAs are paying tens of thousands of dollars for security for festivals, while others pay very little, said Fletcher. For the Taste of Lawrence street festival, organizers only have to hire two paid duty officers, plus a security firm, she said.
“There’s no standard approach and it is really killing some of these festivals,” said Fletcher. “They’re really unable to continue and they’re not big festivals, space-wise.”
Last year, Taste of the Danforth, an annual three-day festival that draws over a million people and involves road closures, spent more that $100,000 on paid-duty police and private security, said Mary Fragedakis of GreekTown on the Danforth BIA, which organizes the event.
“Pretty much everyone agrees there’s a problem with policing at special events, and trying to overhaul paid-duty, because the reality is, even the police are struggling with this,” said Fragedakis, who served the area as city councillor for eight years.
The Star asked to speak with police and city staff involved in the report but did not get a response.
Bailao said many of the BIAs “face uncertainty” around security costs and the requirements. “Let’s be transparent,” she said. “If police feel there is a higher risk, we just need to understand that and to see if there’s any other thing that can be done so we can work all together that can protect the community, but maybe in all kinds of different ways.”
Paid-duty officers are off-duty, and paid on an hourly pay grid set out in collective agreements. The rates increased slightly on June 1.
A single constable costs $73 per hour, with a minimum charge of $216. Events where four or more constables are required or requested, add a sergeant to the tab, at a cost of $83 an hour with a minimum charge of $249. When 10 or more officers are on the job, a staff sergeant is mandatory, costing $92 per hour, with a $276 minimum.
In other words, it all adds up. For big and small events alike. And the demand is high, the supply limited.
The Toronto Police Service “is dedicated to its focus on public safety, yet is simultaneously challenged with limited availability of police officers to fulfil special event staffing, including paid duty requests,” the report states.
The service has the ability to deploy on-duty officers to fill gaps, but, the report notes, that impacts areas of the city where the officers must be taken from.
There are 82 business improvement areas planning close to 200 events a year, within a growing city. The “increasing challenge” to fill paid-duty requests is “placing the viability of events and other activities, such as film production, in Toronto at risk,” notes the report.
Film and television productions require paid-duty officers when filming scenes with moving vehicles and special effects involving explosions, pyrotechnics and gunfire. So, just about every production these days.
The report points to two recommendations from the police service’s “transformational task force” final report, which aim to use police officers only when required or necessary for public safety reasons, and find alternatives when that is not the case.
City staff and police plan on working to find “potential short-term and long-term” solutions that will address the challenges while “continuing to support the vibrancy of the city.” After Thursday’s executive meeting, they clearly have more work to do.
Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, told the Star about a quarter of paid-duty requests are going unfulfilled, and that diminished staffing levels are contributing to the problem.
McCormack said increased use of physical barriers is helping alleviate some of the needs, as well as using private security. That said, event organizers often want police at their events, and there are only so many officers to go around, he said.
Late requests can also cause problems, said McCormack, noting that Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the Toronto Raptors, requested paid-duty officers three days before last month’s championship parade.
City staff and police have been asked to report back to the executive committee in December, well ahead of next year’s festival season.
“These are great community events,” said Bailoo. “I think they add a lot to the city and I think we need to do everything we can to get to the bottom of this and we assist the organizations in continuing to have the festivals in the city, in a safe way.”