TPAC
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
 

Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 73, January 28, 2013.



January 28 2013

1. Carding questions continue
2. Stop-and-Frisk ruled unconstitutional
3. The real world of TAVIS
4. Sentencing police officers
5. How many officers does Toronto need?



Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 73, January 28, 2013.

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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1. Carding questions continue
2. Stop-and-Frisk ruled unconstitutional
3. The real world of TAVIS
4. Sentencing police officers
5. How many officers does Toronto need?
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. Carding questions continue

The practise of carding seems to be something the Toronto Police Service Board likes to talk about, but will the Board ever agree to take action?

At the Board meeting on January 23  the fourth time since April 2012 that the Board has considered the issue (see Bulletins No. 67, 70, and 72)  Paul Copeland talked about how the Board danced around the issue of police officers getting involved in political elections even though it was contrary to the law, for more than four years until finally in 2004, under Alan Heiseys leadership the Board stated such activities must cease.

Lets hope the practise of random stops and demanding all kinds of personal information from (mostly) youth of colour will be terminated in less than four years. At previous meetings the Board has said it wants police to issue a receipt for the information gathered. Chief Blair has produced a general receipt which gives the officers name, the date and location of the stop, and offers six reasons for the stop, including `community engagement and `general investigation, as though they were valid reasons for police requiring someone to answer questions.

The Law Union of Ontario told the Board that the way carding happens violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Canadian Civil Liberties Association stated that individuals should receive a mirror copy of all the information the officer takes down on the 208 card (the Board has already agreed to the general idea of a receipt), and noted that police should state the specific reason for the stop.

TPAC made similar points, recommending that `the best course of action for the Toronto police is to cease carding activities which involve random stops where there is no evidence of illegal activity. If the Board wouldnt agree to that, TPAC said the 208 form should be modified by replacing the general reason for the stop (`Circumstances of Investigation) with two headings, namely `Crime being investigated and `Why this person was stopped for this crime; and a carbon copy of the amended 208 form should be given to everyone who is stopped and carded.

Chief Blair re-iterated that he was totally opposed to racial profiling (It is abhorrent to us), but then went on to say that the `street checks his officers do `keep communities safe, and that the information gathered (on the 250,000 cards filled out each year) is valuable. In short, he proposed that nothing needed to change.

Deputy chief Mark Saunders, apparently the staff person dealing with the carding question, told the Board that there was nothing written about the value of all the information being collected on the cards, but it is something they are studying. He says he is trying to get a control sample for three years from the 1.2 million cards; then focus groups would be established to determine best practises, then the best practise would be developed. He said the timeline for this work was `complicated, and he had no idea when it would be completed.

One had the impression the Board was not impressed by the work plan or by the inability to provide a completion date.

Almost all board members spoke on the issue. There seemed to be a recognition that random stops were not within the law. They all agreed on two courses of action: the city solicitor would be asked to report on the legality of the carding practise, and a subcommittee  consisting of Councillor Michael Thompson, and board members Adrian Pringle and Marie Moliner  would work with the chief and propose a course of action. Both reports will be before the Board on March 14.

2. Stop-and-Frisk ruled unconstitutional

Chief Blair says that Stop-and-Frisk as practised by American police forces is fundamentally different than carding, presumably because frisking doesnt always take place in Toronto during street checks. However, the decision of a New York judge, as reported in the New York Times, January 9, 2013, page A17 looks pretty much like the kind of judgment one might expect from an Ontario judge. Judge Shira Scheindlin of Federal District Court in Manhattan, said police officers were routinely stopping people outside buildings without reasonable suspicion that they were trespassing in front of buildings which had enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program where property managers asked police to patrol buildings and arrest trespassers. Quotes from the article are in quotation marks.

The fact that a person was merely seen entering or leaving a building was not enough to permit police to stop someone, `even if the building is located in a high crime area, and regardless of the time of day, the judge ruled. Nor was it enough for an officer to conduct a stop simply because the officer had observed the person move furtively, Judge Scheindlin said. (The forms that the police fill out after each street stop offer `furtive movements as a basis for the stop.)

For those of us who do not fear being stopped as we approach or leave our homes or those of our friends and families, it is difficult to believe that residents of one of our boroughs live under such a threat. In light of the evidence presented at this hearing, however, I am compelled to conclude this is the case.

As a person exits a building, the ruling said, `the police suddenly materialize, stop the person, demand identification, and question the person about where he or she is coming from and what he or she is doing. 

The decision continued: `Attempts at explanation are met with hostility; especially if the person is a young black man, he is frisked, which often involved an invasive search of his pockets; in some cases the officers then detain the person in a police van. 

Judge Scheindlin also expressed concern over a department training video that she said incorrectly characterized what constituted an actual police stop. In the video, a uniformed narrator sates `Usually just verbal commands such as Stop! Police! will not constitute a seizure. The narrator explains that the encounter usually qualifies as an actual stop only if the officer takes further steps such as physically subduing a suspect, pointing a gun at him, or blocking his path. `This misstates the law, Judge Scheindlin said of the video, which has been shown to most of the patrol force.

Judge Scheindlin called for a hearing to discuss possible remedies to the issues she raised. At that hearing, she said, she will consider requiring the Police Department to create a formal written policy `specifying the limited circumstances in which it is possible to stop a person outside a TAP building on suspicion of trespass, revise the training of officers and alter some training literature and videos use to teach officers how to conduct lawful stops.

Police commissioner Raymond Kelly said Todays decision unnecessarily interferes with the departments efforts to use all of the crime-fighting tools necessary to keep building safe and secure.

3. The real world of TAVIS.

The Toronto police program of choice seems to be TAVIS, the Toronto Anti-Violence
Intervention Strategy. The web site, http://www.torontopoilice.on.ca , says TAVIS rolls out in three phases: (1) Additional Toronto Police Service officers are assigned to areas experiencing an increase in violent activity; (2) Once the neighbourhood is safe, "maintenance-level" enforcement continues with increased police/city/community member collaboration; and (3) "Normalized" policing provided as support to an empowered community.

At the January 23 Board meeting, a report was filed on how TAVIS was organized in the Weston-Mount Dennis community in 2011. Some 26 officers from other parts of the city were assigned to patrol duties in the community, and that freed up 26 officers from the division to do foot and bicycle patrol. Basically it meant that double the number of officers patrolled this community (interrupting criminal and disorderly behaviour at key locations and times in the community, as the report says.)

The officers were also engage in youth programs, and the report lists five summer camps and two clubs, as well as half a dozen barbeques. Outreach was made to several retailers, and closed circuit cameras were installed in various locations.

No figures are given about any decrease in crime or increase in arrests resulting from this intervention.

One thought: given the salaries of police officers - $90,000 a year for an officer who has been on the force for five years  it would probably make a lot of sense to hire twice as many recreation and youth workers (at the same cost) instead of using officers if the intention was to improve the lives of children and youth. Thats probably not done because one intention is to improve the image of police to youth as they are carded.

4. Sentencing police officers

John Schertzer and his four of drug squad colleagues from the Toronto police force were convicted by a jury for obstructing justice  they searched an apartment without a warrant and then falsified their notes  in June after a lengthy trial. The events leading to the charges had occurred in 1998.

In early January, they were sentenced  each received 45 days house arrest. Judge Gladys Pardu agreed they had breached the trust assumed to rest on police officers, and that their actions had undermined public confidence in the police, but she thought the lengthy legal process had a `catastrophic effect on them (they were all suspended with pay when charged  that is, the public continued to pay them the substantial salaries that officers receive, and all but one have since retired from the force with significant pensions) and that the publicity has vilified them.

Its true: when you commit a crime your reputation is affected  particularly when you hold a job dealing with the public, which expects a fundamentally different kind of behaviour. Theres nothing unusual about that, and theres no reasons to pity police officers who are convicted of crimes.

But the crime here is lying to the court. Isnt that something the court should be worried about?

As for the 45 day house arrest (the crown had asked for four years in jail), many have noted that judges often give sentences similar to the sentences given by other judges for similar kinds of crimes, and police are almost always given light sentences compared to others. So the tradition of not requiring police officers to suffer the same consequences as others who commit crime, continues.

5. How many officers does Toronto need?

Chief Blair is about to undertake a study on how many officers should be on the Toronto police force. It is an intriguing question, but probably not one that youll be allowed to formally offer any opinion on. The study is not something which the Police Services Board is involved with  it is only within the purview of the police forced. We have inquired about whether a consultant has been chosen, what the terms of reference might be, and whether theres any opportunity for public input  but to date our requests have been met with silence.

The question opens up all kinds of issues. Should we assume Toronto requires two officers in a police car when the sun is not in the sky? Or can Toronto be like many other large urban police forces and generally have one officer per car. Should we assume that Toronto will end its sloppy overlap in shifts so fewer bodies are needed? Can we begin to reduce the number of random patrols that police do, given they have been shown to have no impact on rates and crime, and no impact on perceptions of public safety? Are these questions the consultant will deal with?

If only we had some answers.

6. 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.
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