TPAC
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
 

Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 45, February 9, 2009



February 09 2009

1. Making police data public
2. Policing Toronto subways
3. The release of non-crime information
4. Minor charges clog courts





Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 45, February 9, 2009.

This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving. Our website is http://www.tpac.ca
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In this issue:
1. Making police data public
2. Policing Toronto subways
3. The release of non-crime information
4. Minor charges clog courts
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. Making police data public

The extraordinary series about racial profiling published in the Toronto Star in 2002 was made possible because Toronto police gave a Star reporter access to the data in police computers on arrests and stops by police for a number of years. The data had been altered so none of those arrested could be identified.

The Star articles concluded that police in Toronto practiced racial profiling. (See Bulletin No. 4, October 2003.) A few years later the Star reporter asked under the Freedom of Information Act for the latest data, but this time the Toronto Police Services Board replied it had no obligation to provide the information since to make the data anonymous, it would have to run a special computer program. Even though the Toronto Star agreed to pay the cost of running this program, the Board refused to release the information. The matter went to arbitration (the arbitrator said the information should be released), and then to the Divisional Court (which said the information should not be released - see Bulletin 40, March 2008.)

A decision by the Court of Appeal this January has said the Board must release the information. The appeal court concluded that its interpretation of the Freedom on Information Act and its regulations strongly supports the contention that the legislature contemplated precisely the situation that has arisen in this case. In some circumstances, new computer programs will have to be developed, using the institutions available technical expertise and existing software, to produce a record from a machine readable record, with the requester being held accountable for the costs incurred in developing it. That interpretation makes good sense: far more so, in my respectful view than the one suggested by the [Toronto Police Services] Board.
The case is `Toronto Police Services Board vs Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario and James Rankin [the Star reporter], and can be found at http://www.ontariocourts.on.ca/decisions/2009/january/2009ONCA0020.pdf .

One hopes the Star will now be able to report on what change has occurred since its 2002 articles in the field of racial profiling by Toronto police officers.

2. Policing Toronto subways

Toronto police chief Bill Blair has announced that starting this May, 38 police officers will patrol the transit system - subways, buses, and streetcars. Im putting police officers where the public is, to help reduce crime and deal with crime when it occurs, Blair said.

The announcement came a few days after a shooting in the Osgoode subway station, the second shooting in a year on the Spadina subway line. At the same time, the Toronto Transit Commission said it was increasing its special constables from 103 to 176 within two years.

The announcements seem to be based on the notion that police visibility reduces crime, although many studies have shown that this does not appear to be a clear result of increased visibility or personnel. Perhaps the hope is that increased police and special constable presence will help members of the public feel more secure, even if they are not. It will probably prove very difficult to show that this increase in police presence on the transit system has any impact on reducing crime rates on transit  in fact increased police presence might lead to more arrests (for incidents that in the past did not warrant arrest) and thus increased crime rates.

3. The release of non-crime information
There has been considerable debate in recent months about the amount of information police should release when asked for a criminal reference check for a job application. While this information can only be released to the person involved  not to agencies or third parties  the person is usually required to pass this information on to the organization with the job opening. TPAC and some other organizations believe the police should report criminal convictions that have not been pardoned and nothing else, but the Toronto Police Services Board has taken a much looser position, permitting police to report on a much wider list of incidents. (See Bulletin No. 40, March 2008.)

A recent report to the Board proposes that police not disclose any contact with police pursuant to the Mental Health Act, except to agencies that have been specifically trained, authorized and approved to receive such information, and that can show a need for this information. The police call it the `Vulnerable Sector Screening Program but one must question their wording: the agencies involved, many of them social agencies, have considerable resources and should be able to do their own mental health checks. It is hard to call them `vulnerable.

The report notes that the police service can not and does not evaluate the suitability of any individual within an agency and that disclosure is of limited value because it represents a snapshot taken at a particular moment of time. Those both seem like good arguments against releasing any information except for criminal convictions that have not been pardoned. Let the agencies do their own assessments. One wishes the Board had taken this route.

The police force should not become monitors and reporters of health issues: it should report on criminal convictions that have not been pardoned and nothing else.

This matter will be before the Toronto Police Services Board when it meets on Thursday February 12, 1.30 pm in Committee Room 2, Toronto City Hall.

4. Minor charges clog courts

Last year the Attorney General established a new program `Justice on Target to reduce delays in the criminal courts by 30 per cent. A judge and a senior crown attorney have been appointed to head up the initiative, which looks to reduce the number of court appearances before final disposition of each case from 9.2 to 6.4 appearances, and the time involved from 105 days to 144 days.

Diversion seems a likely strategy  diverting cases involving persons experiencing a mental health crisis to special forums to deal with them, and replacing charges for minor offences with peace bonds. Its difficult not to think that perhaps the style of policing employed in Ontario and Toronto needs to be rethought, and that the idea that police should lay charges as often as possible doesnt make a lot of sense, either for the individuals involved or for the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, police are not directly involved in the Justice on Target initiative, which seems to be structured without taking into account how the pile of work before the courts is actually generated.

5. Subscribe to the Bulletin

To subscribe or unsubscribe to this Bulletin, please send a note to info@tpac.ca with the instructions in the subject line or in the text of the message. Our e-mail list is confidential and will not be made available to others. There is no charge for the Bulletin. Our website is http://www.tpac.ca.

Please circulate this Bulletin to friends and colleagues who might share an interest in policing. We appreciate your comments or suggestions for stories which should be sent to info@tpac.ca .

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