1. Making community policing a priority
There is an opportunity at the next Toronto Police Services Board meeting on Thursday, November 18, to push for significant changes to police deployment to ensure a better community response.
Last Spring the city's Budget Task Force asked the police to consider increasing foot and bike patrols. At last month's board meeting the Chief submitted a brief report responding to this request, noting that he has recently assigned a few more officers to this function but that "additional officers cannot be assigned to foot or bike patrols at this time without having a negative impact on the staffing of primary response cars and response teams."
Councillor Sylvia Watson appeared at the meeting and said she was not happy with that response. She thought that having police on the street in her community (Parkdale) would have a really beneficial impact particularly around drug dealing. The Chief said it wasn't possible since the force was deluged with worries about guns, drugs and nightclubs. Watson made the fairly obvious point that deploying people to be on the street was a more effective use of resources than in patrol cars, at least in her part of town. The Board, with its new progressive majority, asked the Chief to report further at the November meeting on how foot and bike patrols can be increased. His report has yet to be prepared but this matter has been scheduled on the agenda and members of the public are invited to speak to it.
This might be a good occasion for people to make the point that if the police get to know their communities more intimately by actually being on the streets, then they could deliver more responsive policing and probably develop more trust with those they are obligated to serve. The Board meets in Committee Room 2, Second Floor, Toronto City Hall, on Thursday, November 18, beginning at 1:30 p.m. The secretary of the committee can be contacted at 416 808 8084.
2. The Police Board evolves
Finally, although unexpectedly, on October 28 Norm Gardner resigned his position on the Toronto Police Services Board. Pressure from the Board had led him to step down as chair in June 2003 - although he continued to receive remuneration of more than $8000 per month until replaced as chair by Alan Heisey in December - and then in March 2004 he was suspended from serving on the Board by the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services after it determined he had abused his position as chair. Gardner had appealed the OCCOPS decision, and the Divisional Court concluded that " the merging of the various functions of investigation, decision to hold an inquiry and adjudication by the participation of the three panel members [of OCCOPS] in all phases raises a reasonable apprehension of bias resulting in a loss of jurisdiction and the decisions of the Commission cannot stand." The court quashed the OCCOPS decision and remitted the matter back to the Commission for rehearing. The Commission appealed that ruling, but that was dismissed by the Ontario Court of Appeal . Gardner resigned before the new hearing could get underway.
This means there are now two vacancies on the Board - Gardner's position, and that of provincial appointee Benson Lau whose term expired in late September. Toronto City Council filled the vacancy at the expiry of Alan Heisey's term with the appointment of Alok Mukherjee, former vice chair of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and a professor at Ryerson University.
Mukherjee's appointment has meant that the board has operated with a progressive majority - Muhkerjee, Councillor Pam McConnell (now chair of the Board), and Councillor John Filion.
The two vacancies are to be filled with appointees of the provincial government. Premier Dalton McGuinty has suggested he'll appoint individuals satisfactory to the city, but the names of those individuals, and the process of their selection, is unknown. The province has said the appointments will be made before November's end.
3.Appointing a new chief
At the October Board meeting, the Board's new majority (opposed by Councillor Case Ootes and former judge Hugh Locke) forged ahead with a process to hire a new chief replacing Julian Fantino, whose contract expires in March 2005.
The Board agreed to select a human resource consultant from the city's approved list by mid-November. A community consultation on criteria for a new chief is promised before Christmas (although at the time of publication of this Bulletin the Board had made no decision about the process or timing of this consultation). Advertising is being done throughout Canada. Candidates must submit applications by mid-January, with interviews in February and an announcement in March. The likelihood of a new chief being available to start work in March seems remote.
One question which might be raised at the December consultation is whether the board should ask a number of community leaders, particularly those from minority groups, women's groups, and community organizations, to be part of the interview and selection process. Even a board of seven individuals is small: why not engage a larger community in this important task?
4. Nameless in T.O.
On behalf of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, Harvey Simmons approached the Toronto Police Services Board in May with a request that police officers be identified by a name badge rather than just by a number, which would bring Toronto in line with most of the other large police forces in North America, including the RCMP and the OPP.
This is not a matter that the Chief of Police Julian Fantino takes lightly. He reported to a September meeting with the reasons this should not be done. One problem is that a number of officers have the same surname and name tags would cause confusion. His report includes an appendix with names used by ten or more officers - names such as Miller, Murphy, Ferguson, McDonald, Johnston (these last two with various spellings), Taylor and Williams. He says some names are very long, including one of 18 letters, so they might not fit onto a tag. Name tags aren't needed, he suggested, because there already is a rule requiring officers to supply their name and employment number when asked. (A recent experience of this writer is that when someone asked an officer for his name the reply was "We don't give out our names.")
Fantino also questioned how a name might be affixed - embroidered onto the uniform, pinned on, Velcro? These methods all have costs. He recommended was that "the service supports maintaining the current use of badge numbers and identification cards."
Mr. Simmons attended the Board meeting and made several obvious points. He suggested that names are easier to remember than numbers and that if you want to distinguish people with similar last names then including a first initial would help. As for the argument that if citizens knew the names of officers they could find where they lived and cause them trouble, it was pointed out that does not seem to be a problem in the 25 most dangerous cities in the United States where name tags are the basic form of identification of officers. As for the cost of a name tag - a maximum cost would be about $200,000 (with another option at half that price) Simmons noted that this is a one time cost and is a very small amount in a $600 million budget.
Three members of the Police Services Board, Councillor Ootes, former judge Hugh Locke and Mr. Benson Lau (since retired) teamed up to defeat the proposal to introduce name tags. Maybe a new Board and new chief will provide somewhat more reasonable thinking on this very simple matter.
5. Police database off base
Once again the Chief has reported to the Board, as required, on the number of strip searches carried out by the force in the quarter April-June 2004. Once again he has reported that the data is not available - because the records management system of the Board is still not functioning.
It was in 1996 that the Board approved a new records management system called eCOPS (Enterprise Case and Occurrence Management System.) A capital budget of $8.8 million was approved and the project was expected to be implemented by 1999. But, as reported in the October 22, 2004 issue of Computing Canada the system continues to be dysfunctional. In fact, the Computing Canada article says "eCOPS is now in its eighth year and more than $8 million over budget. The Chief has said that the cause for cost overruns and schedule delays include 'a lack of program management infrastructure, constant changes in delivery strategies and a lack of communication and training plans.'"
By way of contrast, the Ottawa Police Service has been successfully using an off-the-shelf system for more than five years.
6. A proposal regarding a public complaints system
Patrick LeSage has now completed his public hearings on the police complaints process and his report is expected to be filed with the provincial government before the end of the year, and hopefully made public at that time.
The public hearings were the forum for a number of interesting suggestions including one from the Ottawa Witness Group, a group established out of concern about aggressive police behaviour towards peaceful protesters in November 2001 during G-20 demonstrations in Ottawa.
The Ottawa Witness Group has suggested that an Office of the Citizen Advisor be established to provide advice to complainants and to guide them through the complaints process. The Group has argued that "There is already in place a similar structure for injured workers under a number of provincial and territorial workers' compensation regimes, called the Office of the Worker Advisor. The Offices differ in their powers, but have in common the advocacy role for injured workers at all steps of the workers' compensation process, including appeals. Workers' Compensation Boards have found that such Offices have been of considerable assistance in the claims process, with full disclosure and sound advice actually reducing the number of appeals.
"By the same token, an Office of the Citizen Advisor (OCA) would serve not only to represent the interests of complainants at all stages, but would, through a number of measures including full disclosure, alternate dispute resolution and the provision of informed advice to complainants, serve as a filter against unfounded complaints. In this connection, it might be noted that the number of appeals against appointment in the federal public service dropped significantly when a disclosure phase was introduced."
When TPAC presented its brief to Mr. LeSage it referred favourably to the establishment of the Office of a Citizen Advisor.