1. The next Toronto Chief of Police
Who should be the next Chief of Police for Toronto? Various names are being thrown about. We would suggest that the best way to choose a new chief is by asking candidates the following questions and deciding on the basis of the authenticity and depth of answers given:
1) Do you support an independent review of complaints against the police and why?
2) Have you shown in the past your ability to work well with diverse communities, involve them in meaningful consultation; and incorporate good feedback learned from them into the way the police deliver services? Will you continue to treat this as a priority?
3) Are you able to effectively address corruption and allegations of corruption within the police force? What experience have you had in this area so far in your career?
4) What effective action will you take to limit racial profiling by police officers?
5) Are you interested in depoliticizing the role of the chief? If so, how do you plan on doing this?
And there are five other questions that require answers:
6) How do you see creating mechanisms for better accountability within the police and between the police and the public?
7) How do you intend to end programs that target marginalized groups such as the homeless, immigrants, refugees, queers?
8) How do you plan to implement recommendations of the many audits and reports dealing with police treatment of women and psychiatric survivors?
9) What steps can the police take to work more cooperatively with organizations serving women and youth? Do you intend to take these steps?
10) How can the police force make more efficient use of current allocations?
A good new chief for Toronto will provide convincing answers to these questions. The individual who provides the most convincing answers should be the new Chief of Police for Toronto.
2. Two police approaches to people in crisis
One of the unsung successes of community/police partnership in Toronto is the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team. The community partner is St. Michael's Hospital and it teams a police officer with a mental health nurse from St. Mike's to respond to calls in 51 and 52 Divisions involving a mental health crisis. The team arrives at the scene, makes an immediate assessment of the situation, intervenes, does what it can to divert the individual from serious problem or harm, and then arranges for appropriate mental health treatment.
During the past year the team responded to 703 calls in these two divisions. Because of funding limitations the service operates only between 1:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m., the times when most calls of this nature are received. The police officer is non-uniformed and the police car is unmarked, good ways to reduce intimidation. Theres no attempt to make officers into mental health nurses, or nurses into people who can intervene with force. The partners support and complement each other, they don't try to take on the others role.
What is extraordinary about the service is that during the past year, in all the crises the team has attended, there has not been a single report filed for Use of Force. It's an amazing record given that in the rest of the city such encounters often involve Use of Force reports. The team saves the police force a great deal of money. Officers do not have to wait hours for a patient to be admitted at a hospital emergency room since the nurse can do the assessment on the way to the hospital. And psychiatric survivors receive the best kind of service they could hope for. In all areas of assessment one would have to say this is a terrific service which should be expanded.
Indeed on hearing the report on the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team at the Police Service Board meeting on March 8, Interim Chief Mike Boyd said he thought it was natural to expand this service into 11 and 14 Divisions. Steps are now under way to consider how this is done.
Later in the same meeting the Chief recommended, and the Board decided to put money into a different approach to people in crisis - to arm more police officers with Tasers so that the individual can be subdued with this technology. The Board agreed with the interim chief to buy about 100 Tasers to outfit supervisors in 31, 42 and 52 divisions with them, at a cost this year of about $200,000.
It was unfortunate that the Board was not willing instead to expand the far superior approach of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, and leave the Tasers only in the hands of the Emergency Response Team, which is called in for very difficult cases. A majority of the Board agreed to buy more Tasers, opposed by Chair Pam McConnell and Vice-Chair Alok Mukherjee.
The use of Tasers fits within the "Use of Force" model advocated by the Ontario provincial government. This model provides a framework for the officer assessing the Use of Force, including the seriousness of the situation, the lack of cooperation from suspects, perceptions, and tactical considerations. Not once does the provincial government information package explaining and supporting the Use of Force model suggest that a good strategy when dealing with people in crisis is to de-escalate the situation and ratchet down the tension. These are exactly the kinds of actions that the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team does so well, starting with not identifying the officer through a uniform or a marked car.
By rolling out Tasers to three divisions, the police service is preferring the use of worrisome technology over tried and true human intervention which has proven to be so successful. If the $200,000 that is being spent on Tasers this year had been used to expand the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team into more divisions or more hours during the day, it would have been money better spent. Maybe when the new chief asks later in the year for more money for more Tasers, a stronger argument can be made instead to expand the program known to be successful. If other cities are any indication, in a year's time there will be enough reports of Tasers being misused, given the excitement that an officer faces when confronted with a crisis, that the public will realise the inappropriateness of this approach.
3. Name Badges for Toronto Police
Harvey Simmons of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition has been pushing for the last eight months to get the police to identify themselves with name badges or patches so that officers begin to have a more human face. Former Chief Fantino thought this was a ludicrous idea of no merit, and filed several reports saying as much. Simmons persisted and showed that Toronto was probably the only large police force in North America that did not identify officers with a name patch or badge. He also showed that the cost estimate for identifying officers by name was not the $200,000 suggested by the former chief but more like $80,000, if one could use the example of the costs incurred by the Ottawa police force in making the leap in identification.
Simmons' persistence paid off at the March 8th Board meeting when the Board asked the Chief whether money could be found to implement this during the current budget year (the Chief did find $200,000 with little problem for the Tasers!) or whether this should be part of next years program.
4. Finally a Better Strip Search Policy
As noted in Bulletin No. 17, the City Solicitor has told the Board that its strip search policy does not conform to rulings of the Supreme Court of Canada. On March 8 the Board agreed to request the Interim Chief to prepare a new policy in conformity with the Solicitor's report and to create an appropriate procedure. This will mean strip searches by police will no longer be routine, and that reasonable and probable grounds of finding something of danger to the person arrested or others in police custody will have to be demonstrated before a strip search can be made.
It has taken the police more than three years to agree to implement the Supreme Court decision on strip searches, which was released in late 2001. It is expected that the Interim Chief's report on the exact changes will be before the Board at either the April or May meeting.
5. Well Paid Police
A report has recently been prepared, pursuant to provincial legislation, itemizing the individuals working for the Police Service who were paid more than $100,000 in 2004. (The report was a walk-on item at the March 8 Board meeting, so it is not filed on the Board web site, http://www.torontopoliceboard.on.ca .) The report shows that the number exceeds 240 individuals.
With a total staff complement of almost 7000 (including civilians), it may not seem out of line to have 3.5 per cent of staff listed as better-paid senior managers. But that's not what the data indicates. It shows that those receiving more than $100,000 a year were divided almost equally between senior managers and detectives. One can understand why so many officers want to be detectives.
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