Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 50, December 7, 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
In this issue:
1. More on police in schools
2. 2010 police budget
3. Compressed work week, new schedule?
4. New complaints procedures in Ontario
5. New rules for tasers
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. More on police in schools
Theres a well known Canadian tradition that looks hard at American social policy, waits until the Americans realize it doesnt work or shows perverse results, then puts that policy in place here in Canada. Stephen Harpers Conservative government is in the thick of this practice as it brings in new laws and policies to put more people in jail longer, just as California realizes the folly of ever having done this in the first place.
The Toronto police force, with the active support of Toronto school boards, is now following the same tradition by putting police in most Toronto high schools.
Police have been in New York schools for more than a decade, and there are problems. An editorial (titled `Over-Punishment in Schools) in the New York Times on Sunday November 29, 2009, states Juvenile justice advocates across the country are rightly worried about policies under which children are sometimes arrested and criminalized for behavior that was once dealt with by principals or guidance counselors working with a students parents. It notes that children who are arrested or suspended tend to be disproportionately black and Hispanic and often have emotional problems or learning disabilities, and says School officials in several cities have identified over-policing as a problem in itself.
One can expect these problems to become more evident in Toronto. The incident at Northern Secondary School in October fits the profile too well: a black student apparently insulted a police officer who is seen on the video arresting the student, who was charged with assaulting policing and resisting arrest, then suspended. If the police had not been present in the school and the student insulted a teacher, he would have received a detention. Put police in schools in Toronto, and youth actions will be criminalized just as they have been in American schools. And those criminalized the most will certainly be from minority groups.
A study by the Annenberg Institute for Social Reform and the New York Civil Liberties Union titled `Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools recommends sweeping changes. It says The number of police personnel patrolling New York Citys schools should be reduced significantly. This should generate financial savings that can be applied to expand guid¬ance, social work, and other support services to respond to disciplinary issues in ways that strengthen the educational en¬vironment and avoid excessive reliance on law enforcement tactics and the juvenile and criminal justice systems. It recommends that disciplinary responsibilities be returned to educators, and that alternatives to harsh penalties be instituted. The study can be found at http://www.annenberginstitute.org/pdf/Safety_Report.pdf .
But here in Toronto, we are just settling into the program of police acting as School Resource Officers in high schools. A self-administered student survey concluded that most everyone is happy with the situation and relations between students and officers might even be improving. The report does concluded, strangely, that overall student perception of safety in their school and in the neighbourhood surrounding the school did not improve, a conclusion which throws the whole experiment into confusion. The press release accompanying the survey evaluation states airily The main goal of the School Resource Officer Program has always been to build relationships, provide mentoring, leadership, and develop extracurricular opportunities for the students. That is revisionist history: the goal when police were placed in schools in 2008 was never spelled out, but it was done in response to a fear of more violence in schools, and most people assumed that thats why police were going in.
Related to this is the recently published 2010-2011 list of police priorities, goals and strategies, including the development of a "prevention and education initiative . . . relating to child and youth victimization in the areas of bullying and cyberbullying. Surely this instruction on bullying is more appropriately (and less expensively) accomplished by ordinary teachers or by social workers. This is the problem with putting the police in schools: their policing skills are rarely needed so they look around for something, anything, that might justify their presence. Tax dollars would be better spent on additional teachers and social workers whose skills fit squarely into the curriculum and the classroom.
Most worrisome is the statement School Resource Officers felt more part of the school management team at the end of the school year than at the start. In short, the police are playing a solid role in managing schools. What does this have to do with the new goal, which is to improve relations with youth?
Sounds like Toronto schools with police are headed down the same road as the American schools with police. Our children deserve better from school trustees, from teachers and principals, and from the police.
TPAC has wondered why more parents are not speaking up. We concluded that most middleclass parents think their children will never be on the receiving end of police action so they think they dont need to speak up. Parents of minority children and those living in poverty dont speak up because they fear they will be penalized if they do, or because they dont have the resources to do so. It is no different than the fact that there is no constituency to speak up against the extraordinary number of people who are in jail before they have been found guilty of anything. Inequality in society hits those at the bottom very harshly.
2. 2010 police operating budget
On November 23 the Toronto Police Service Board released the 2010 operating budget that will be presented to the Board for approval on December 17. It asks that net spending increase from $842 million in 2009 to $899 million next year.
The Board asked for public comments by November 30. TPAC said that allowing just a week for comments was ridiculously short, making it almost impossible for individuals and organizations to provide meaningful comments. We submitted a draft letter by that date. Our final letter includes the following comments:
`We understand the city budget chief, Shelley Carroll, has asked the police department, as well as other city departments and agencies to cut their 2010 budget request by 5 per cent from last year. That would mean a 2010 budget of $812 million, or almost $90 million less than the 2010 operating budget request as it now stands, at $899.1 million.
`It is fair to say that kind of cut will not be achieved. But we believe a large cut must be made to the request so that the city has the funds needed to ensure there are programs available to reduce crime.
`Board members are surely aware that the best thinking currently available is that the best way to reduce crime among youth and youth violence and safety is claimed in the 2010 police operating budget overview (page 4) as the leading priority for the police - is to spend more money on recreation and support programs for youth.
`The 2008 report by Roy McMurtry and Alvin Curling, `Roots of Youth Violence, makes it clear that spending more money on policing is not part of the solution - in fact the report shows that too much provincial money directed towards justice services to youth in trouble is eaten by police and is not available for the social programs that are needed.
`That report asks for a number of changes including: repairing the social context with programs which are created for youth; creating a youth policy framework to replace the patchwork of programs now available; creating strong communities out of weak suburban subdivisions and housing projects; and finding ways that government can actually exercise its oversight functions. These programs cost money, and if a great deal of that money is spent on police services, then that money is not available for those programs. That is the current problem in Toronto, as the city is not able to reasonably fund programs for youth. Constraining the increase in the police budget will permit funds to be available for reducing youth crime and violence.
`It is our opinion that the Board must make a clear commitment to reducing youth crime and violence and that will only happen by ensuring that the police budget does not gobble up the $899.1 million proposed in the 2010 budget request.
`We suggest that as a target the Board agree to request no more net funds than in 2009, that is, that the Operating Budget request for 2010 be no more than $845 million, and further that the Board ask the city to devote funds to youth programs in keeping with the McMurtry/Curling report.
`We suggest three ways of controlling the budget increase.
`1. Do not increase the staff complement from the 2009 request.
`As set out on pages 16 - 18 of last years budget overview, the 2009 target was to fund 5477 officers and 2021 full-time civilians. The 2010 target (pages 13 4 of the 2010 overview) is 5576 officers and 2056 full time civilians. That is an increase of 134 staff. The Board should decide not to increase staff.
`2. Do not hire new officers to replace those who leave the force during 2010.
`The budget overview estimates that 250 officers will resign or retire during 2010 (page 13), but it also assumes they will all be replaced. This year they should not be replaced, but a smaller force should be asked to do more.
`There are four reasons for advancing this position. First, crime continues to decline. As the overview points out (page 28), major crime (murder, sexual assault, robbery, break and enter, theft over $5000) is down 10 per cent from the same time last year, and last year was down 9 per cent from the year before. At the same time, the number of calls for service that police responded to, the number of arrests, the number of gun calls, and the number of traffic tickets issued have all continued to fall (pages 29 30). Police clearly have less work to do.
`Second, the 2008 Environmental Scan argued that police officers were spending considerably more time at each call for service than in the past. (see http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/publications/files/reports/2008envscan.pdf , pages 155, 156, 179.) It seems that productivity can be increased substantially, without a reduction in service to the public, by simply having officers reduce the time spent at each call.
`Third, the cost per officer is now considerably in excess of $100,000. The wage settlement agreed to by the Board last year pays officers very very well compared with other public employees. A recruit in training is now paid the equivalent of $51,000 a year. Once the recruit joins the force, the pay jumps to $57,000 for the first year and $81,000 for the fourth year (page 14). Benefits are worth another 25 per cent (page 15). These officers should be expected to work harder for this money, and in any case the public simply cannot afford to pay more and more staff at higher and higher wages.
`Fourth, we believe the current strategy of the police force widening its net to try to become all things to all people is inappropriate. Two examples of this are putting police officers in high schools (apparently to improve relations with youth) and assuming surveillance duties on the transit system (for reasons that remain ill-defined.) These initiatives are not useful ways to prevent crime, nor do they assist in obtaining convictions. It would be better if the police force decided to use its resources to become better at what they are expected to do. For example, we believe it would be more appropriate if some resources were used to ensure that police are adequately trained in Charter procedures so that charges are not thrown out for Charter reasons, and in ensuring that cases proceed in a timely manner, rather than being challenged for dragging on for many years. Bringing more focus to police work is more important that the police expanding into areas that have little impact on crime and safety issues.
`3. New compressed work week schedule
`We have seen the press release on the new compressed work week schedule, and we ask the Board to make public the actual changes agreed to so we can actually see what it proposes. Apparently the result is that at long last the number of officers on duty will bear some relationship to the calls for service rather than being spread almost equally through the whole 24 hour cycle.
`Assuming this interpretation is fair we need to see the agreement to be sure of our reading of the matter - then the force should be able to operate with fewer officers. We suspect this change could mean that three or four fewer officers will be needed in each division during each shift, and that should result in reducing the force by a further 100 officers.
For the first year, the Board has posted the full operating budget for 2010 on the web site, http://www.tpsb.ca . It is long 815 pages and takes forever to download, but it contains interesting commentary on a unit-by-unit basis for those who like to wallow in detail.
3. Compressed work week, new schedule?
The Toronto Police Services Board and Toronto Police Association issued a joint press release in late November saying they had reached an agreement on a new compressed work week. This is a matter they have been bargaining on for the last few years, at considerable cost.
The agreement apparently says that the new compressed work week schedule will be tried on one or two divisions staring next March, but wont be fully implemented for a year or two. Unfortunately, no further details are available the Board has yet to release the agreement.
The current arrangement certainly has it flaws. For one thing, three are three platoons working every day (the other two platoons are off) working shifts of 10, 10 and 8 hours. That means that we pay for 28 hours of policing for every 24 hour period. (Other police forces in the GTA work two twelve hour shifts in a 24 hour period, which is much less costly. The extra four hours a day in Toronto adds 12 per cent to salary costs for the Toronto force, or about $80 million a year.) None of the overlap in the three shifts occurs during peak time for police service needs, that is, the early evening the overlap occurs during non-peak periods so Toronto residents get none of the benefit of these extra on-duty officers.
Does the new compressed work week schedule address either of these problems? We have not been provided with the details to know, and when information is not made available, one fears for the worst.
4. New complaints procedure in Ontario.
The new complaints office, Office of the Independent Police Review, is now up and running. The web site is www.oiprd.on.ca , and you can file a complaint on line.
But theres a big problem you face as you begin to fill out the on-line form, namely the following statement: The information in this form will be forwarded to the appropriate police complaints authority for consideration. This includes a professional standards department or police authority of the relevant police service.
Obviously, the intention is to simply shift the complaint over to the police force you are complaining about, and that is bound to send shivers down the spine of many who think of making a complaint. There is nothing said about how this new provincial agency is there to protect your interest as a complainant and ensure that you are treated fairly, or that the police will be held to account. This is a significant oversight if this new agency is to be effective.
On the subject of complaints, one should note that Paul Kennedy, who has been the complaints officer with the RCMP, and who has urged that a better and more transparent complaints system be instituted by the RCMP, has not been reappointed by the federal government. The interpretation by the media and most others is that the feds dont like having someone this reasonable within the bosom of the governments police department.
5. New rules for tasers
Taser International announced in mid October that its stun gun should not be aimed at the heart not that there were any real problems, but just in case, whatever. Toronto police (and other police forces) immediately came out with new policies recommending that officers aim lower.
One wonders when it will be suggested that the genitals isnt a good area to aim at either.
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