TPAC
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
 

Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 27



March 17 2006

1. Police horses
2. Targeted TAVIS
3. Taser use in Toronto
4. A policy to reduce strip searches
5. Political Police in Ottawa
6. Wyann Ruso settlement



Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, Bulletin No. 27, March 17, 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
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1. Police horses
2. Targeted TAVIS
3. Taser use in Toronto
4. A policy to reduce strip searches
5. Political Police in Ottawa
6. Wyann Ruso settlement
7. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. Police horses

A much loved police horse, Brigadier, was attacked by a driver on an east-end street in Toronto, and with two legs broken, had to be put down. It is a sad occasion when an animal is killed on a Toronto street, but this event achieved mockish overtones as the police force hosted an elaborate funeral attended by a crowd of more than 1000.

What was missed in the publicity was whether it is worthwhile for the police to be riding horses in downtown traffic, particularly when they appear to be used more for show than for effective policing. It is dangerous for the horse; is it a good use of police resources?

In budget documents, police give several reasons for keeping a mounted unit: crowd management; divisional support for neighbourhood policing initiatives and focused problem solving; high profile target policing; and searches for missing persons or evidence.

One can understand the use of horses in crowd management. Anyone who has been involved in a demonstration where the police bring out the horses knows how terrifying they are (and probably how terrified the horses are.) But how helpful are they in high profile target policing, divisional support (these are the words the police use) or searching for persons or evidence? Surely there are better and less costly ways of delivering these services. As well, one suspects good crowd management does not require horses.

The 2006 police Operating Budget shows that 48 uniformed officers and one civilian are assigned to the mounted unit, and the budgeted cost for the unit this year is $3.9 million.

One has to ask whether this unit is a serious priority for Toronto at a time when many city programs have been cut to the bone.

2. Targeted TAVIS

The Toronto Police Service Board has embarked on a new campaign to clean up the streets, the Toronto Anti Violence Intervention Strategy. TAVIS, as described in Toronto newspapers, is the old ploy of targeting individuals either known to police or gathering at suspect locations, and then wading into random search and questioning whether or not they have any reasonable apprehension of illegal activity occurring.

For instance, it was reported on the front page of the Globe and Mail on February 13 that under the aegis of TAVIS, police officers surrounded a person they thought was a drug addict and forced him to hand over various possessions which the police then trampled underfoot. Is this an appropriate activity for police to be undertaking? It sounds as though those being targeted are the most vulnerable, the most marginalized and the least powerful. They may not be the ones causing violent incidents.

There is reasonable doubt as to whether the police have the legal authority to take articles from those they stop on the street. One questions how this will be effective in dealing with the scourge of guns in Toronto which was what TAVIS was apparently intended to do.

Staff at the Scadding Court Police Complaints Project have found that because of TAVIS many feel people it is not safe to file complaints about how police have dealt with them, and that they fear retaliation. The Project has sought a meeting with senior officers to discuss what they have learned  that meeting will happen next week.

3. Taser use in Toronto

Police Chief William Blair reports to the March 23 meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, that in 2005, the Special Weapons Team of the Emergency Task Force attended 527 calls for service. It threatened to use the taser 183 times and used the taser 66 times. Apparently the threat to use the taser was enough to achieve suspect compliance three quarters of the time. Officers with the Public Service Unit threatened the use of the taser four times, and used it seven times. Police report no injuries or death because of taser use.

ETF members are highly trained, particularly in their own restraint, and they understand that it is often more important not to take action than to take it. In a highly charged situation few can be expected to show the same restraint as ETF members who are trained to do so. Restraint clearly is an excellent response for all concerned. The Public Service Unit officers have not had the training, and used the taser much more often  their lack of restraint is telling.

A year ago, the Board agreed to roll out tasers to front line officers in three divisions That roll-out has been delayed for various internal reasons, but apparently is now proceeding. What will rank and file officers do with the taser in their possession? They will almost certainly show less restraint than members of the ETF and PSU since they have not received the critical training necessary for restraint as a good response, and almost certainly injuries will unnecessarily result. TPAC is urging the Board to not implement the taser roll-out, but instead to restrict tasers to the ETF.

More than one-third of the cases involving full taser deployment explicitly label the target person as emotionally disturbed, although one can assume that many of those involved with weapons or domestic assaults were also emotionally disturbed. If a Crisis Intervention Team (see Bulletin No. 18, March 2005) were available, the likelihood of taser use would be significantly reduced. Only two cases of full taser deployment involved emotionally disturbed cases in 51 Division, where a Crisis Intervention Team, consisting of a plain clothes officer and a public health nurse, is available until 11 p.m. to deal with these cases without the use of force. In other divisions this service is not available.

TPAC is also urging the Board to create more Crisis Intervention Teams for other divisions.

4. A policy to reduce strip searches

In Bulletin 26, it was reported that Toronto police strip search about one in every three persons arrested. This number of strip searches is far higher than contemplated by the Golden decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The court hints in its decision about what a good policy would be. In Paragraph 94 of the decision it states: & 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.

In Paragraph 98 the court states: .. . 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.

The policy required to meet the Courts judgment seems clear: a Level 3 (strip) search should only be conducted if a Level 2 (frisk) search provides reasonable and probable grounds for believing that the individual has something secreted on his/her body not revealed by a Level 2 (frisk) search, but which will be revealed by a Level 3 (strip) search.

Similarly, a Level 4 (body cavity) search should only be conducted if a Level 3 (strip) search provides reasonable and probable grounds for believing that the individual has something secreted in his/her body not revealed by a Level 3 (strip) search, but which will be revealed by a Level 4 (body cavity) search.

TPAC is asking the Board at its March 23 meeting to amend the Search of Person policy to ensure searches take place in the sequence noted. If followed, that would most probably result in many fewer strip searches, which is what the Supreme Court of Canada has said should occur.

5. Political police in Ottawa

The Ottawa Police Association is now following in the steps of the Toronto Police Association five years ago. The OPA has committed itself to endorsing candidates in the November municipal election in Ottawa. The Ottawa Police Service Board is thrashing around as though if indeed it were the Toronto Police Service Board five years ago, in the era of Board Chair Norm Gardner, and is failing to make the policy decisions to indicate (as the Toronto Board has since done) that political activity by the Police Association will not be tolerated.

6. Wyann Ruso settlement

The Police Service board has now reached a settlement with Wyann Ruso, the woman who attended at a police station to indicate her husband intended to kill her. Then, relying on the assurance that the police would be arresting her husband  an assurance that was never honoured by the police - she returned home to care for her daughter, where she was attacked by her husband and seriously injured.

The terms of the settlement have been required by the police to be confidential. When the settlement was announced, the Police Service has once again said that domestic violence is a priority for the police. One wonders what changes in practice will be done to ensure this priority will be honoured. Those changes are not at all evident.

Several womens groups will be raising this issue at the next Police Services Board meeting on March 23. They are asking that the police release information about the review that was undertaken, and will again ask that women be involved in establishing strategies for police to respond more reasonably to violence against women, and the training to support those strategies.

7. Subscribe to the Bulletin

To subscribe, or unsubscribe to this Bulletin, please send a note to j.sewell@on.aibn.com 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.

Please circulate this Bulletin to friends and colleagues who might share an interest in policing. We appreciate your comments or suggestions for stories which should be sent to j.sewell@on.aibn.com.

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