York Region Police saw a 183 per cent increase in officers on the list, compared to 2010, with 70 per cent of its officers now making more than $100,000.
Some police board members across the GTA defend the increases and say the Sunshine list presents a skewed picture. It doesn’t factor in inflation, or the fact that many police forces only recently began reporting paid duty wages (earned during an officer’s time off) on the income column of the list, instead of the one for taxable benefits.
Others say the Sunshine list illustrates a rapid rise in police salaries across the GTA that can’t continue.
“Across the board, they’re not sustainable,” says Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti, chair of the York Regional Police Services Board. “What we have to do is keep the salary increases in line with inflation.”
York had 379 uniformed police officers on the 2010 public sector salary disclosure (Sunshine) list — 26.6 per cent of its uniformed staff. The 2015 list has 1,072 York officers on the list, 70 per cent of the 1,535 uniformed staff complement.
Pay increases in the GTA for uniformed officers, required to have only a high school education, have outpaced inflation by about 20 to 30 per cent over a decade. Base salary hikes are only a fraction of a controversial, little-known system of increases that can add as much as 17 per cent annually to the publicly revealed pay increases.
Scarpitti is one of many who told the Star the current system of arbitrated settlements for police contracts — using salary and benefit increases won in contract disputes by forces across Ontario as benchmarks — is not working.
“Police salaries have outpaced inflation and the increases received by other municipal sector employees for some time, and that has been a concern for our board and others across the province,” Roger Anderson, chair of the Durham Police Services Board, said in an email.
“Two out of the last three contracts have been settled through arbitration as the board could not support the increases being asked for by the (Durham Police) Association,” Anderson said, “and we are currently just starting the arbitration process again for this year’s agreement.”
Contracts in the GTA will provide first-class constables with base salaries that automatically put many on the Sunshine list.
The new chair of the Peel Police Services Board defends increases in the latest contract, which by 2019 will put all first-class constables over the $100,000 mark on entry-level base pay, plus top-ups that will give some a base wage as high as $117,491.
“The collective agreement negotiated last year between our board and the Peel Regional Police Association … featured increases that for the most part are below the anticipated levels of inflation,” said Amrik Ahluwalia.
Paul Black, president of the Peel Region Police Association, said in an email Monday that the message policing salaries are non-sustainable “is not borne out in the facts.”
Black said the 2014 Region of Peel financial report showed over the previous five years, “police expenditures grew at rates less than the majority of other government services.
“In negotiations last year, the Peel Regional Police Association worked with the Police Services Board to produce an agreement that satisfied financial pressures coming to bear on the board and included concessions that our members accepted in a five year collective agreement,” Black said. “Furthermore, over 90 per cent of all collective agreements in the policing sector are reached through negotiation.”
Black added that police compensation was addressed during current contract talks, and wage increases will be at or below forecast inflation rates between now and 2019. “The current agreement was reached after considerable concessions by our association going forward, which the Peel Police Services Board felt would produce “net zero” budget impacts.”
The Peel force saw a 95 per cent increase in the number of uniform officers who made the Sunshine list from 2010 to 2015: from 664 uniform officers out of a complement of 1,855 in 2010, to 1,297 officers out of a total of 1,951 in 2015.
In Toronto, recent police collective bargaining agreements have led to a decrease of 349 in the overall number of uniformed police officers between 2010 and 2015. Meanwhile, the number who made the Sunshine list more than doubled, from 2,063 to 4,282, in just five years.
Employment in the uniform ranks now almost guarantees membership in the $100,000-a-year club — 78.9 per cent of the force’s uniform officers made the Sunshine list in 2015. And by 2018, the base salary for a first-class constable will rise almost five per cent from the current rate to $98,450, with those who receive the maximum retention pay set to make $107,312.
Toronto’s latest contract will, by 2018, give a first-class constable without retention pay, overtime, paid duty income or other premiums an income just $1,550 less than the Sunshine list threshold. The 2018 base salary represents a 38 per cent increase from 2006, when the base salary was $71,522. Typically, it takes about three years to become a first class constable.
Police forces often mention the risky nature of the work when the issue of compensation is raised.
Crime data compiled by Statistics Canada shows crime rates and severity of crime have been on a sharp decline since the early ’90s. But police board members said it’s unclear whether rising police pay has contributed to that.
“What you’re starting to see is communities out there that recognize they value what emergency personnel do, they absolutely do,” Scarpitti said. “No one in their right mind would ever say they don’t do an important job. But, there is a limit to how much people will extend themselves, graciously, to pay for that, knowing that, one, some of them live in some of the safest communities in North America and two, that crime has been going down.”
HOW TO BUILD AN EXPENSIVE COP
Follow the base salary for a first class constable and watch premiums pile on:
Peel police officer pay
$71,400: Base salary for first class constable 2006
$100,420: Base salary for first class constable 2019
$109,458: Top pay for a first class constable as of 2019 factoring in the “3, 6, or 9” per cent increase paid annually
$117,491: Top pay for a first class constable as of 2019 including retention pay of a 9 per cent and an “investigative premium” of 2, 4 or 8 per cent, depending on the department
Total increase between 2006 and 2019:
41%: The pay increase established in Peel police’s new contract for the lowest base pay for a first class constable.
61%: The pay increase for a first class constable with 0-7 years of experience with no investigative premium, who moves into the 17- to 22-year category and receives an additional 8 per cent annual investigative premium and an additional 6 per cent in annual retention pay. This does not include overtime and off duty pay
When a municipality and police union reach a stalemate on contract issues an arbitrator can be brought in to break the deadlock by handing down a decision.
The arbitrator’s ruling is binding, and municipalities argue that is where their problems begin.
“It’s easy for an arbitrator to take out his pen and sign that decision. At the end of the day, when they look at our ability to pay what they mean is, ‘It’s okay, all you have to do is raise your taxes, and your taxpayers will pay it.’ That’s where they have us,” says Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti.
Across the GTA, the payroll costs of police forces account for about 90 per cent of police operating budgets.
And base salaries are only part of it. The reality, municipal officials say, is that police salaries are rocketing far beyond other public-sector incomes once you add in all the additional pay upgrades.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie is working with other Ontario mayors to rein in runaway police salaries. She says she hopes “the Ontario government will take action to reform the arbitration system to create a more level playing field across the province.”
Retention pay was instituted to attract applicants and retain staff, but Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said keeping staff has never been a problem. “We have never, ever, ever had a shortage of people applying to our fire service or to the police. Ever.” He said because Toronto police got retention pay, York’s force wanted it and got it through arbitration. With retention pay, after about seven years officers get three per cent raises, six per cent after 16 years and nine per cent after about 23 years – on top of the negotiated annual increases.
Raise, repeat; raise, repeat
Over time, a constant cycle of raises has pushed salaries up and up, Mayor John Tory says.
“They have had a whole history of how compensation has been set over time, a lot of it by arbitration,” says Tory. “And we are where we are.”
But Ron Bain, executive director of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, says salaries are where they should be. “Most of them are following the inflation rate.”
Real police work only, please
Mayor John Tory said that if “expensive” police are going to be paid professional salaries, the board must “have them spend less time catching left turn offenders and directing traffic and more time doing real police work.”
Toronto’s top earning constable last year, Abdulhameed Virani, made $242,524. In 2008, when he was also near the top, the Star reported that much of that came from attending traffic court, under a contract stipulation allowing officers to earn 1.5 times their regular pay for attending court on their day off, with a minimum four hours’ pay even if they spent only 10 minutes there.
Having an officer defend a $50 ticket he or she handed out for a traffic offence could cost taxpayers about $300 in overtime pay.
Author: San Grewal, William Davis