1. Domestic Violence and the police response
There's not much more depressing reading than the recently released report of the Domestic Violence Death Review Committee for 2004. The Committee, consisting of experts from various disciplines, reports on deaths resulting from domestic violence, of which there are an average in Ontario of 34 a year. In almost all cases the committee notes, "the homicides appeared both predictable and preventable." In almost all cases the most important risk factors were there for anyone to see: an escalation of violence; prior death threats; obsessive behaviour; depression; unemployment; alcohol or drug problems; and child custody or access disputes. Without exception, the problem is male violence or events precipitated by male violence.
The report makes several dozen recommendations, many about ways to increase general awareness and education in the population at large and among social agencies. It also recommends:
* ongoing training for police so that appropriate responses are made in domestic violence cases involving child custody, including the development of a high-risk case management protocol (No. 5).
* improving police support and response to officers who experience emotional or mental health problems among officers since police have access to guns (No.9), and establishing better control of guns (No.10).
* police to identify, monitor, and manage high-risk cases and liaise with relevant social agencies (No. 16).
* better training and procedures for staff who take 911 calls (No.18).
* police intervention to provide information of risks to those proposing to offer bail surety to husbands in high risk cases (No.19 and 20).
* police to enter court-ordered restraining orders into the Canadian Police Information Centre system (the police computer system) (No. 21).
These are obviously useful recommendations if implemented. The constant stream of stories about the harm, violence and death resulting from male violence against women in the Toronto area makes it clear serious change is needed, particularly since most deaths and much serious violence, is thought to be both predictable and preventable.
The case of Wyann Ruso illustrates the crying need for the Toronto Police Services Board to act on these recommendations, given the attitude of indifference displayed by some Toronto officers when presented with evidence of incipient domestic violence. In November 2004, Ms. Ruso implored police at 42 Division to arrest her husband, who had been threatening to kill her. After she attended at the police station with a colleague to make this request, police promised to arrest him, but did not. Five hours later Ms. Ruso returned home to give dinner to her disabled daughter - her husband then attacked her with an axe and almost killed her. Despite a promised report and admission of human error by then Police Chief Julian Fantino, there has been no report or response from police leadership.
Will the Toronto police force make the changes? Are they ready to confront the male-oriented police culture to do so?
The Committee's report can be found on the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional services web site: http://www.mpss.jus.gov.on.ca/english/home/pubs.html .
2. Police Complaints Report: Update
The report by Patrick LeSage on changes and improvements to the police complaints system has generally met a receptive audience in Toronto ("a good start" is how most seem to see it) but the concern is with how and when the provincial government will act. Will the changes be made in 2005? Will the new regime be adequately funded and staffed? Will the recommendations be watered down? How will the government ensure that community representatives have a meaningful role in adding to the report and implementing it?
The answers to those questions are not yet clear. The Community Coalition for Police Accountability, a group that came together to press LeSage for significant reforms - TPAC is a member - is calling for a meeting with the Attorney General Michael Bryant to discuss implementation with representatives from Ontario communities and sectors. The Attorney General is not forthcoming about timing, money or content. Perhaps his office needs some encouragement? His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Meanwhile, the LeSage recommendations were endorsed by the Toronto Police Services Board at its May 12 meeting. Unfortunately, it happened in a way that had many activists worried.
On May 10 word came that a report by staff on Lesage would be "walked into" the May 12 Police Services Board meeting, with no opportunity for the public to see it before it arrived. One rumour was that it would recommend against civilian oversight. There was much worry about how a large crew of people could be roused to attend the meting on May 12.
Then it was learned from staff for Councillor Pam McConnell (she chairs the Police Board) that the report was signed by her, not by staff, and that it would endorse what LeSage had proposed. The red alert was ended late afternoon on the day before the meeting.
It's entirely appropriate that Board watchers fear what might happen at the last minute - that fear was precipitated by the activities of former Chief Julian Fantino over the five years of his term - and new Chief Bill Blair remains something of an unknown quantity. The Board could easily alleviate concerns by changing its procedures. It could:
* notify those who have previously expressed an interest in specific areas (such as complaints) of items coming up on agendas. This could be easily done by e-mail.
* refuse to allow walk-on items where there has been no public notice except in cases of real emergency
* post supplementary agenda items on the Board website (http://www.torontopoliceboard.on.ca) two days before Board meetings.
Fear and trepidation of Board meetings can be handled better if theres more transparency and proactive attention by the Board to those in Toronto who are willing to spend time and energy improving police policy and accountability.
3. The unmade appointment
The provincial government continues to be lethargic in making an appointment to fill the vacancy of the Board's seventh position. Six months ago it showed interest in appointing a woman - a very appropriate move, given that the Board now consists of five men and one woman - but then it did nothing.
One person at the province said, in a casual conversation, that this appointment might be a "bargaining chip" in the negotiations between the province and the city about powers and revenues (that is, the discussions about a new City of Toronto Act.) It's a pity if that's where this appointment has ended up. The Board already consists of too few members (as former Chair Alan Heisey noted, in his memo published in Bulletin 3, September 2003.)
If the province isn't interested in making this appointment, would it turn over the opportunity to make this appointment to Toronto City Council?
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