Paid-duty policing: Toronto’s perennial scandal

Paid-duty policing: Toronto’s perennial scandal

(Image: William Mewes) (Image: William Mewes)

Here’s an excerpt from a December 1993 Globe and Mail article about the excesses of paid-duty policing—a kind of official rent-a-cop service offered by the Toronto Police Service, for which off-duty police officers are paid an hourly wage to stand guard over private and public functions and construction projects:

Police officers in Metropolitan Toronto received almost $9-million in addition to their regular salaries last year by renting their services to private clients.

A long-established practice known as paid duties permits off-duty constables to boost their incomes—in some cases to as high as $80,000 or $90,000—by directing traffic, acting as security guards or escorting funeral processions.

And here’s the Toronto Star on Sunday:

Last year, 3,047 off-duty cops earned $26.1 million for performing 51,526 jobs ranging from “traffic control” on construction sites to providing security for community events. That’s an increase from 2009 when 3,700 officers picked up 40,919 freelance assignments for a total bill of $24.2 million.

Paid-duty assignments originate from a wide variety of sources, including private organizations, construction companies, utilities and special event organizers, along with city agencies such as Toronto Hydro, the TTC and some city divisions.

So, that’s progress, of a sort. In two decades, Toronto has gone from being outraged over $9 million in payments to off-duty cops, to being outraged about $26 million in payments to off-duty cops.

The newspaper articles continue to come out on a yearly basis, more or less. Any time you see a police officer standing by a construction site, or sitting by the sidelines at a Blue Jays game, that officer is almost certainly being paid a minimum of $66.50 an hour (starting later this year it will be $68). And that’s on top of the officer’s regular salary. Even the city itself frequently has to hire paid-duty officers—and the city pays the police force’s regular payroll. One reason the practice continues to be so commonplace is that hiring paid-duty officers is often a requirement of getting certain types of permits from the city. There are legitimate concerns about whether all this expensive off-duty police work really serves public safety, or whether it’s simply a job perk for cops. Private security is often less expensive.

In 2011, the city’s auditor general released a report on paid-duty policing, and shortly afterward city council passed a bunch of new measures that were supposed to relax the city’s permit requirements in order to lessen the need for paid-duty officers. And yet, as the Star points out, those measures don’t seem to have had much of an effect.

And so this is your annual reminder: paid-duty policing is costing the city millions, and nobody knows whether that money is well spent.