Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 26, February 8, 2006
This bulletin is published monthly 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
In this issue:
1. Ending gun violence?
2. Some figures on death by guns
3. TPAs continuing confrontational tone
4. Alarming strip search figures in Toronto
5. Wanted: a new complaints procedure
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Ending Gun Violence?
During the January 23 federal election, the three major political parties made commitments to end gun violence, particularly in Toronto.
Stephen Harper and the Conservatives wanted to make the following changes:
* Increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun offences.
* Try 14-year-olds who are charged with gun offences and other serious crimes as adults.
* End the program which releases prisoners after serving two-thirds of their sentences. (This extra imprisonment has a cost of $100 million.)
* End conditional sentences, i.e. house arrest, for serious crimes.
Jack Layton and the NDP made the following promises:
* Increase mandatory sentences for possession of illegal guns and for weapons offences.
* Try youths of 16 years old as adults for gun offences.
* Impose a reverse onus of proof for bail on gun related crimes.
* The NDP also stresses the need for community and social programs so youths do not become involved with gangs in the first place.
Paul Martin and the Liberals promised the following:
* A ban on hand guns.
* Increase mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.
* The Liberals also propose spending $50 million on a Gun Violence and Gang Prevention Fund, to be used for diversionary and skills-development programs directed at youth.
At the same time Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty came out with a $50 million program which included the following:
* The creation of three rapid response police teams to target guns and gangs. Each team would consist of 18 police officers.
* $14 million to speed the hiring of new officers.
* Almost $5 million to create three new high security court rooms.
* Hiring 31 new Crown Attorneys, 12 victim service staff and 15 OPP officers, at a cost of $26 million.
Will these suggestions be successful at bringing an end to gun violence in Toronto? Probably not, according to a new book Research on Community Safety. This book is a product of the Panel on Community Safety established by Mayor David Miller in 2004. It collects papers given by the academics who spoke at the conference, as well as reflecting the discussion of the attendees, and seems to see itself as the official opinion of those most informed about the issue. Contrary to what the political leaders have proposed, the introduction to the book concludes The problem of community safety cannot be solved by a simple resort to criminal justice strategies. (p. 6)
The most powerful article in the book is by Cheryl Marie Webster, a criminologist the University of Ottawa, titled Limits of Justice: the Role of the Criminal Justice System in Addressing the Problem of Crime. The central theme of the paper is the inability of criminal justice measures such as mandatory sentences to reduce crime. For instance, putting more people in prison seems to make the situation worse (it increases the likelihood these individuals will be incarcerated again) rather than better. (p.112)
No consistent empirical support has been found that harsher sentences deter crime.(p.106.) Considerable data says that people who commit crimes are not aware of the penalties for specific offences and that they rarely take that into account the consequences before committing a crime. Most potential offenders never think they will get caught. (p.109) Adult courts and adult sentences have been found to be conducive to further criminal behaviour in young offenders.(p.114)
In brief: increasing mandatory sentences does not reduce crime. Putting more people in jail increases rather than decreases crime. Treating youths as adults is very bad for youths.
Trying to rehabilitate people in prison has at best a 10% impact in reducing crime (p.115) and the devastating effects of imprisonment on the offender may simply obliterate any positive effects gained by treatment.(p.116.)
What the papers in the book seem to conclude is that only social programs directed at youth before they become involved in gangs and guns is effective. Money must be invested in education, family support, community programs, good housing and so forth, but there seems to be limited interest among political leaders to spend the kinds of money needed to make a positive difference. They prefer to put their money into things that will make things worse.
The essays are academic in tone, and difficult to read, even if is dedicated to Mayor Miller. The book is available for $20 from the Centre of Criminology, University of Toronto, telephone 416-978-7124 ext 5.
2. Some figures on death by guns
The current issue of the New York Review of Books cites recent information on death by guns, complied by the John Hopkins Centre for Gun Police and Research. Death by guns include: accident death, suicide, homicide, etc. Here are the annual deaths by guns for selected countries:
Great Britain 197
United States 30,419
(Just so there is no mistake: the annual number of death by guns in United States is 30,419, which is said to be 19 times higher than that of 35 other high income countries combined.)
The Centres web site (http://www.jhsph.edu/gunpolicy/ ) contains much interesting information, including the significantly positive impact which various kinds of gun controls have on the level of death by guns.
3. TPAs continuing confrontational tone
When its president was Craig Brommell, the Toronto Police Association developed a confrontational style in which it made it clear that those who attempted to restrict police activities in any way would be dealt with harshly. The Association engaged in overt political activity contrary to regulations under the Police Services Act; it took after members of the Police Services Board who voiced criticism of police activities; and it attempted to engage in the Blue Ribbon fund raising campaign which many viewed as intimidation of the public.
After Mr. Brommell stepped down 18 months ago and David Wilson was elected president, one assumed the Association had turned a corner. That assumption is now shown to be faulty. At the end of January Mr. Wilson and the Association decided to sue the Chief, claiming he had broken an agreement regarding the discipline of uniformed officers during a political demonstration in November, and that he has not fully investigated the conduct of an officer accused of racial discrimination against a black officer.
These are a return by the Police Association to confrontational strategies. But perhaps the more worrisome thing is the way the Association dealt with the officers who were disciplined by the Chief in the November demonstration. As reported in Bulletin 24, the police decided to march from Union Station to Toronto City Hall in support of their wage and contract demands on November 2, and encouraged officers to attend in full police uniform, including carrying guns. Chief William Blair said it would be a breach of discipline for the officers to engage in this political activity while in uniform and indicated he would discipline any who so appeared. Some 60 off-duty officers were in the march wearing their full uniform and carrying their guns. As part of the contract negotiations there was an agreement that no disciplinary action would be taken against these 60 officers if they agreed to forego three days pay. All uniformed officers who were on the march agreed to that arrangement. However, the Association reimbursed all officers for the lost pay. It is as though the Association is willing to pay people to do things that they have agreed is wrong. It is a very frightening way for any group of employees to behave and it certainly makes one very worried about the ability of the Association to respect the public interest while representing its members.
4. Alarming strip search figures in Toronto
Finally, after a long period of pressure from TPAC, the number of strip searches carried out by Toronto police has been made available. Chief Bill Blair filed them at the January meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, showing the combined number of strip searches (Level 3 searches) and full body cavity searches (Level 4 searches) by the Toronto police for the years 2001 - 2004.
In 2004, 37.4% of the 61,038 adults arrested were subject to Level 3/ 4 searches, an increase from 32.0% in 2001. Of the 9,444 persons aged 17 and under arrested in 2004, 31.6% were subject to Level 3/ 4 searches, about the same percentage as in 2001.
Of the adults subject to Level 3/ 4 searches in 2004, 3,780 were female, and of them, 494 were 17 years of age or younger.
No data is available on how many of the searches resulted in contraband material being discovered.
In 2001 the Supreme Court of Canada decided the case of Golden vs. The Queen, which dealt extensively with questions of strip searches and what appropriate police policies could be under the Charter of Rights. In paragraph 90 the Supreme Court says:
Strip searches are thus inherently humiliating and degrading for detainees regardless of the manner in which they are carried out and for this reason they cannot be carried out simply as a matter of routine policy. The adjectives used by individuals to describe their experience of being strip searched give some sense of how a strip search, even one that is carried out in a reasonable manner, can affect detainees: humiliating, degrading, demeaning. upsetting, and devastating. . . Some commentators have gone as far as to describe strip searches as visual rape&.Women and minorities in particular may have a real fear of strip searches and may experience such a search as equivalent to a sexual assault&The psychological effects of strip searches may also be particularly traumatic for individuals who have previously been subject to abuse&Routine strip searches may also be distasteful and difficult for the police officers conducting them.
The Court continued in paragraphs 94 and 95:
In addition to searching for evidence related to the reason for the arrest, the common law also authorizes police to search for weapons as an incident to arrest for the purpose of ensuring the safety of the police, the detainee and other persons. However, a frisk or pat-down search at the point of arrest will generally suffice for the purposes of determining if the accused has secreted weapons on his person. Only if the frisk search reveals a possible weapon secreted on the detainees person or if the particular circumstances of the case raise the risk that a weapon is concealed on the detainees person will a strip search be justified. Whether searching for evidence or for weapons, the mere possibility that an individual may be concealing evidence or weapons upon his person is not sufficient to justify a strip search.
The requirement that the strip search be for evidence related to the grounds for the arrest or for weapons reflects the twin rationales for the common law power of search incident to arrest. Strip searches cannot be carried out as a matter of routine police department policy applicable to all arrestees, whether they are arrested for impaired driving, public drunkenness, shoplifting or trafficking in narcotics. The fact that a strip search is conducted as a matter of routine policy and is carried out in a reasonable manner does not render the search reasonable within the meaning of s.8 of the Charter A strip search will always be unreasonable if it is carried out abusively or for the purpose of humiliating or punishing the arrestee. Yet a routine strip search carried out in good faith and without violence will also violate sec. 8 where there is no compelling reason for performing a strip search in the circumstances of the arrest.
The Court noted the difference between a strip search taking place at the scene of an arrest and incidental to someone being put in a police cell, and putting someone in prison for longer term detention. This was expressed in paragraph 97:
The difference between the prison context and the short term detention context is expressed well . . . in a recent case . . . which involved a routine strip search carried out incident to an arrest and short term detention in police cells for impaired driving. [It was } noted that whereas strip searching could be justified when introducing an individual into the prison population to prevent the individual from bringing contraband or weapons into prison, different considerations arise when the individual is only being held for a short time in police cells and will not be mingling with the general prison population. While we recognize that police officers have legitimate concerns that short term detainees may conceal weapons that they could use to harm themselves or police officers, these concerns must be addressed on a case-by-case basis and cannot justify routine strip searches of all arrestees.
The Court continued in paragraph 98:
The fact that the police have reasonable and probable grounds to carry out an arrest does not confer upon them the automatic authority to carry out a strip search, even where the strip search meets the definition of being incident to lawful arrest as discussed above. Rather, additional grounds pertaining to the purpose of the strip search are required.. . .In contrast, a strip search is a much more intrusive search and, accordingly, a higher degree of justification is required in order to support the higher degree of interference with individual freedom and dignity. In order to meet the constitutional standard of reasonableness that will justify a strip search, the police must establish that they have reasonable and probable grounds for concluding that a strip search is necessary in the particular circumstances of the arrest.
These are strong statements from Canadas highest court, and it is not reasonable to assume that subjecting more than one-third of those arrested to Level 3 or Level 4 searches complies with that decision.
It is useful to review the alleged crimes for which people are arrested (using 2004 figures):
For drug crimes: 5921.
For crimes involving violence, including common assault: 16,809
For crimes involving property: 21,347
For traffic crimes: 2813
For fraud: about 5,000
For mischief: about 6,000
Other crimes, about 12,000.
The number of persons subject to a Level 3/ 4 search in 2004 was 25,824, which indicates that many strip searches took place for crimes involving neither violence nor drugs. One has to question why the strip searches were done apart from intimidation.
TPAC intends to ask the Board to redraft a policy which adheres to the spirit of the Supreme Court decision so that officers undertake very few Level 3/ 4 searches.
5. Want: action on a new complaints procedure
The Community Education and Access to Police Complaints (CEAPC) at Scadding Court Community Centre has been running a Demonstration Project for a year, seeking to make the police complaints system available and accessible to community members. The project provides information and education on the current complaints system in many different languages, supports those wishing to file a complaint including translation, assistance with documenting the complaint, as well as support after the complaint is filed.
CEAPC is releasing its first year evaluation report at a press conference on February 14, with a report from Professor Anthony Hutchinson of Ryerson University. Guess what: the CEAPC model actually does strengthen community-police relations, and it activities shows the need for a much better complaints system, as CEAPC puts it, a desperate need.
Wheres the promised action on the LeSage report, filed eight months ago? Certainly the McGuinty government has had the police on its mind, as it has funneled millions of dollars into hiring new officers. But as CEAPC will note on February 15, so far that concern hasnt led to legislation. And its the legislation that CEAPC and many others want to see. Why the delay?
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