Victor Biro A Toronto police crash that sent two officers to hospital.

Victor Biro
A Toronto police crash that sent two officers to hospital.

Toronto police vehicles face many perils on city roads, from chasing after suspects to driving through red lights. But the number one reason for collisions on the force is something much more mundane.

According to data obtained by the Star, “improper reversing” is the most common cause of police vehicle crashes in Toronto, accounting for 518 since 2009.

That’s out of roughly 3,500 collisions racked up in six years, for reasons ranging from speeding to bad U-turns to unsafe lane changes.

“Improper reversing usually happens in a parking lot-type situation, where they hit a pole or some other inanimate object,” explained police spokesperson Meaghan Gray.

Councillor Chin Lee (open Chin Lee’s policard), a member of the Police Services Board, said “we need to bring that number down.”

“I guess they need to more careful when they’re backing up,” he added, laughing. “Maybe our parking lots are too tight for these big cruisers.”

Officers were deemed “at fault” in 323 of the reversing crashes.

The 3,568 total accidents run the gamut from forgetting to put the car in park (there were 45 of these) to the kind of collisions that stem from dangerous car chases.

For example, 79 crashes in the past six years resulted from “intentional contact,” a category that covers cruisers using aggressive ramming or boxing-in tactics. Police were deemed at fault in 50 of those cases.

The collisions span the period from 2009 to Jan. 6, 2015. Police were found to be at fault in 1,798 crashes, or slightly more than half of the total.

That ratio is considerably higher than that of TTC drivers. A Star report last July found that fewer than one-third of bus and streetcar collisions were deemed preventable by the transit commission.

Gray defended the force’s drivers, noting that they often take to the road in high-pressure situations.

“We do train our officers, but they are involved in a number of different driving situations, responding to emergency-type situations, that can leave them susceptible to getting into various types of collisions,” she said.

Police union president Mike McCormack declined to comment.

The collision total includes incidents involving police trucks, bicycles, motorcycles, ATVs and buses, as well as the regular fleet of cruisers.

In 2012, the last year for which figures are available, Toronto police cars and motorcycles travelled 36,770,875 kilometres. With 611 collisions that year, the force had about half as many crashes per kilometre as the TTC.

Toronto police collisions have been in steady decline since 2009, when cops racked up 650. In 2014, the number was down to 493. Gray attributed the slide to better training.

In some road collisions, police are victims. In the summer of 2013, a bike cop was “doored” in a No Frills parking lot, throwing him to the pavement. The officer broke his sternum. (He later wrote to the Toronto Police Services Board asking that the force resume tracking such incidents, which it has since done.)

When police cruisers do crash, they can do serious damage. Between 2000 and 2013, the force paid out settlements in 15 civil lawsuits involving car crashes, the biggest for nearly $2 million.

Councillor Lee also noted that collisions can add to insurance costs.

“How much of our budget is going to fixing things up and paying the other party in the collision?” he said.

Source: The Toronto Star