TPAC
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
 

Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 101, January 11, 2017



January 11 2017

In this Bulletin:
1. A new report on police and mental health
2. Status of `Matter of Life and Death Report
3. The delay in buying more tasers
4. Police budget goes to City Council
5. Women in the Toronto police force
6. Police unions and the thick blue line



Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 101, January 11, 2017.

This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC), 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 Bulletin:
1. A new report on police and mental health
2. Status of `Matter of Life and Death Report
3. The delay in buying more tasers
4. Police budget goes to City Council
5. Women in the Toronto police force
6. Police unions and the thick blue line
7. Subscribe to the Bulletin
***

1. A new report on police and mental health

The Mental Health External Advisory Committee was appointed by the Toronto Police Services Board in February 2016. Its extraordinarily strong report was released at the Board on December 18.

The report points out that the Toronto Police Service does not have a specific strategy in regard to people with mental health problems; that there is a relative dearth of outcome data of Toronto police dealing with the mentally ill; that in spite of the training given Toronto police officers the degree to which this training changes behavior on the street is less clear.

The committee looked at three issues:
A. Leadership and culture: How can the TPS ensure that the proper leadership is in place at all levels, that the messages of this leadership are heard, understood, acted on, and have an impact?
B. Use of Force: Given that training in use of force appears to take precedence over other training, how does the TPS ensure that it is not the preferred strategy in crisis situations and that the priority is, instead, placed on de-escalation?
C. Intersectionality: While training appears to cover a wide range of topics related to mental health and mental illness, how are issues related to the intersectionality of race, ethnicity, gender and other social identifiers addressed by the TPS?
The report is part of the Board agenda for December 19, see www.tpsb.ca. It asks many questions about Toronto police actions regarding the mentally ill (for instance, are there debriefings after incidents?), most of which can be answered in the negative. It concludes that while police training about dealing with people in mental distress has been happening for twenty years, it has not changed very much police behavior, a conclusion certainly shared by TPAC, which has made many presentations to the Board on this subject over the last dozen years.

The Committees `overarching recommendation is that the police service develop, implement and measure the outcomes of a comprehensive strategy for addressing interactions with people with mental health problems. TPAC told the Board that asking the existing staff of the police service who have dealt with this subject for the last decade to undertake this task will not produce any change, and that hiring new senior staff committed to make the changes needed, was a first step.

But the Board took the easy and inconsequential action, asking existing staff to report on the way forward. Perhaps the Board thinks that existing staff, who have been reluctant to make important change regarding the mentally ill  staff still prevent the Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams from being first responders to calls involving the mentally ill  will change overnight.

2. Status of `A Matter of Life and Death report

This report on how police deal with the mentally ill in Ontario was released by the Ontario Ombudsman in the summer of 2016. The Minister of Community Safety thanked the Ombudsman for the report and said it would be studied. When the Ombudsman replied that that response was not good enough and action was required now, the Minister immediately said all 22 recommendations would be implemented.

But dont hold your breath. TPAC met with the Minister in November, and asked about the status of recommendation No. 2 which reads: `The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services should develop and implement a regulation on de-escalation, modelled on the Suspect Apprehension Pursuit Regulation, which requires officers to use communications and de-escalation techniques in all situations of conflict before considering force options, wherever tactical and safety considerations permit. This should be done as quickly as possible, and no later than 12 months after the publication of this report.

The Minister was uneasy when we raised this issue, and indicated that no one could expect to see a draft regulation soon. We certainly had the impression that no work had been done on a draft regulation. Since that meeting, the minister has resigned (for personal reasons), and the new minister filling in also has to attend to another ministry.

There is no sense of urgency in the Ministry of Community Safety that the change others think should happen quickly is needed.

3. The delay in buying more tasers

Recent TPAC Bulletins have reported that the chief wants all officers to have tasers, that the Board is about to schedule public hearings, and that the $750,000 needed to buy them has been approved in the 2017 capital budget going forward to city council for approval. We have also reported that when the last hearings were held on this matter in October 2013, all 43 deputants said no more tasers, and that they should be limited to supervisory staff. But for several months in the last half of 2016 the Board said new hearings would be imminent.

But then the unthinkable happened: Toronto police tasered a mentally ill person and he died: 31 year old Rui Nabico was tasered by police on November 4, 2016 and ided almost immediately.

Since then, the idea of public hearings to purchase more tasers has been put on hold. We hope it remains that way for another year, or two, or ten.

4. The Toronto police budget goes to city council

The Police Services Board has presented its request of a 2017 operating budget of just over $1 billion to City Council for approval, lauding this as actually lower than the 2016 budget, the first time in twenty years that there has ever been a reduction.

But that means nothing. As our last two Bulletins have noted, there are too many things we dont know about how the money will be spent. The process was flawed  the budget was a walk-on item at the November Board meeting rather than on the regular agenda, and it was not accompanied by a report on the budget consultation held a few weeks earlier where members of the public, including TPAC, had various comments.

Worse, what is presented to Council does not have the detail of the how the changes we know are coming impact spending: where the reduction in about 150 officers recommended by the Transitional Task Force will occur; where the 10 per cent reduction in civilians will occur; the savings from the cancellation of the TAVIS program and from the substantial curtailment of carding; staff reductions in the recruitment function given no new officers will be recruited for the next three years. In short, we have no real budget describing spending and savings compared to last year.

We realize the police service has not prepared a budget for many years. It simply says `Here is the amount we want. It has always been allowed to exceed city expenditures guidelines (as it hopes to do again in 2017). The Board and City Council has always consented to this shoddy approach, something it would never countenance with any other civic department.

Until the police service produces a budget document which accurately reflects where it expects to spend money, and a document which makes the case for more money than last year, the net operating budget for Toronto police for 2017 should be $978. 6 million, which is the city target.

Sadly, we expect City Council to be silent on these issues and simply rubber stamp the money the police service asks for.

5. Women and Toronto police service

The headline in the Toronto Star on October 25 paints the Toronto police service in the same colours as many other police forces in Canada: ` Police environment 'poison' for women officers, tribunal told: Toronto police officer Heather McWilliam is arguing she was sexually harassed and humiliated for years. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/10/25/police-environment-poison-for-women-officers-tribunal-told.html

Ms McWilliam is `alleging there is a systemic problem with the way female officers in the Toronto Police Service are treated that needs to be addressed, according to the Star.

This issue is still before the courts, so her opinions will certainly be challenged, perhaps even rejected by the court. However, we have heard too often about policing and its anti-woman culture. Rather than leave this as simply something to be concluded in the court case, we need a powerful intervention to change the way police operates in Toronto and Canada. The Toronto Police Services Board should assume a leadership role on this issue.

6. Police Unions and the thick blue line.

James Surowiecki writes a financial column for the New Yorker magazine, and a piece he did in September argues that police unions stand in the way of police reform. See http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/19/why-are-police-unions-blocking-reform

While his column deals with American police unions, his arguments apply equally to police unions (in some provinces) and police associations in Canada. They do what they can to frustrate oversight and to block any other kind of police reform.

These are all familiar arguments to those of us who try to improve policing, but it is encouraging to see that others who rarely look at policing issues acknowledge the general trend that surely needs to be addressed.

7. 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.