Michele Henry Crime Reporter for The Toronto Star
A personality clash between Ontario's two top cops has nothing to do with the Toronto force's decision to pull 28 officers out of a province-wide unit aimed at combating organized crime, officials said yesterday.
Aides for both vehemently deny any head-butting and infighting between Toronto police Chief Bill Blair and OPP Commissioner Julian Fantino led to Blair's recent decision to pull his officers out of certain joint operations.
"I want to put to rest once and for all that there are no personality conflicts," OPP Insp. Dave Ross said. "It has nothing to do with what's transpired."
An internal memo circulated within the Toronto Police Service earlier this week said that starting Dec. 1, officers assigned to five provincial investigative units will report to their superiors in the Toronto force, rather than to the OPP.
The units involve more than dozen police forces across Ontario, include biker and weapons enforcement, illegal gambling, proceeds of crime and auto theft.
This restructuring, the memo says, comes on the heels of OPP proposals to create two joint-force units in Toronto in which local officers would answer to OPP bosses.
A "lack of control," the memo says, over the Toronto force's resources reduces its ability to respond to its own needs.
The memo said both police forces recognize the limitations of the current system, which has often proved ineffective at fighting organized crime.
"How do we get the best results with our resources that are limited?" deputy chief Tony Warr asked yesterday. "We focus them on Toronto priorities. By having our own group, we don't have to do anything that's not Toronto-centric."
That doesn't mean Toronto police are "getting out of the joint forces business," he said. He insisted not much will change beyond whom the officers report to, saying the Toronto force will evaluate when and how to get involved in joint investigations on a case-by-case basis.
Toronto Mayor David Miller praised Blair as an extraordinary chief and said he respects his judgment. Miller waved off any suggestion the move away from joint force operations will diminish the police effort against organized crime.
Since joint operations are provincially funded, Blair's move could prove costly for Toronto police.
Regardless of motive, the restructuring doesn't sit well with Ottawa Police Chief Vernon White, a spokesperson said. "He's pretty disappointed that borders are being created when police organizations should be working together," Const. Alain Boucher said.
"When one (police organization) pulls out, it pulls a string away from us and we have to work differently. When we all work together it becomes a strong unit."
The OPP's Ross said his force remains committed to working with Toronto police to combat organized crime. He said it was premature to speculate how the withdrawal will affect daily operations.
With files from John Spears