TPAC
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
 

Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 35, May 14, 2007



May 14 2007

1. The problem of police records
2. Non-transparency
3. Increasing user of tasers in Toronto
4. Breaking the bank on cameras



Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 35, May 14, 2007

This bulletin is published almost 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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In this issue:
1. The problem of police records
2. Non-transparency
3. Increasing user of tasers in Toronto
4. Breaking the bank on cameras
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. The problem of police records

It sounds so simple: an agency wanting to hire someone to volunteer or work with young children has to assure itself that the person has not been convicted of a criminal offence which will put the children in danger, so it asks the police for a report.

That might have been the way of the world a decade ago, but today that simple request has ballooned into a major threat to many people looking for work. Not just a small number of organizations ask for a police report today, but virtually every employer. And most police forces in Ontario no longer just provide information about criminal convictions, but information on any occasion the individual has been involved with the police. Were you accused of a crime but not convicted? That will be in the report. Were you someone police determined was a `person of interest in a criminal investigation, although never charged? That will be in the report.

Did you have a emotional or mental crisis to which police were called to assist? Even though that relates to personal medical records  supposedly very closely guarded information  that will be in the report.

Thus the police report can sink your chances of landing a job for no good reason. Police seem to treat many youths in some of the poorer neighbourhoods as `persons of interest, raising a red flag for many employers and making it even more difficult for those youths to be employed.

The Mental Health Police Records Check Coalition has emerged to try to change police reports. The Coalition advocates for consistent standards for police record searches in Ontario, and to eliminate the release of non-criminal information by police. As its name implies, its key interest is preventing the release of information about mental illness and disabilities. The group can be contacted at http://www.ppao.gov.on.ca/ser-adv-sys-pol.html .

The Coalition has provoked the interest of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and the Information and Privacy Commissioner. A complaint has been filed under the Ontario Human Rights Code, but when the Coalition approached the Toronto Police Services Board last July asking it change its policies about the information released, the Board used the unresolved complaint as the excuse to do nothing until the complaint was resolved.

TPAC applauds the work of the coalition and will be pleased to become a member of the coalition and work with it to make the necessary changes. Its not fair that someones opportunity for employment is sabotaged by a police report which goes far beyond the question of criminal conviction.

2. Non-transparency

Toronto Police management again seems to be drawing a curtain over inappropriate behaviour within the police force. This was noted in Bulletin No. 34 (Closing the information door at police headquarters), which recounted the 2006 collision between Dave Seglins of CBC Radio and the stone wall of police management. A Board sub-committee established in January to investigate the matter is obviously treating this in a leisurely fashion, and has yet to report.

But problem behaviour has again emerged. Police management has brought disciplinary charges against several officers from 14 Division who are alleged to have been directing towing business from auto accidents (in some cases car owners dispute the need for towing) to one towing firm, directly contrary to police procedures. One officer faces charges on about 50 such directions over a period of several months. Management did not tell the media about the charges coming up in late April, and made it very difficult for several reporters who learned of the charges to discover what they were all about. The Police Services Act requires that these charges be dealt with in public.

Obviously, organizations dislike admitting that members are acting in inappropriate ways, but it is important for governments, particularly police, to own up quickly and clearly when it does happen. When there is an attempt to cover-up, it is very easy to conclude either that the organization is condoning this kind of behaviour, or that it does not take it too seriously. Transparency sends a message to the public and to individuals within the organization that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. Toronto police management should not only make it clear it wishes to operate within the spirit and the letter of the Police Services Act; but also that it values transparency.

TPAC is asking the Toronto Police Services Board to intervene forcefully on the side of transparency.

3. Increasing use of tasers in Toronto

On April 1, 2006, Toronto police authorized front line supervisors in 31, 42 and 52 Divisions to use tasers (the stun gun), as the start of a new policy to permit supervisors throughout the city to use them. Previously, tasers were used only by the Special Weapons Team of the Emergency Task Force. At the time, TPAC and others opposed this change, arguing (unsuccessfully) that funds would better be spent on expanding the mobile crisis intervention units (an officer and a psychiatric nurse), and that tasers should remain only in the hands of the highly trained Emergency Task Force.

The chief has now reported on taser use in 2006. In 2006, tasers were pulled out in 156 incidents; use was threatened 69 times, and the gun was actually fired 87 times. That compares with 2005, when taser use was threatened 183 times and used 66 times.

The changes are significant. The Emergency Task Force was obviously far better at negotiating a settlement, with threatened use almost three times more frequent than use. The 2006 figures show that use is now a third more likely than threats. As the tasers roll out throughout the whole police force, one can assume that this trend to more use will continue.

The report on 2006 also shows that in the 156 instances where tasers were deployed, the subject was perceived to be in crisis or to have a mental disorder in 147 cases. It also shows that in 51 Division, where the mobile crisis unit functions and tasers were not yet available to front line officers, tasers were used in only 4 instances. In Divisions 52 and 42, where both tasers and mobile crisis units are available, tasers were used in 66 instances, showing that the taser obviously trumps the softer and more effective action of the mobile crisis intervention units.

Happily, the 2006 report concludes that no injuries or deaths resulted from taser use. Experience in other jurisdictions seems to indicate that this kind of satisfactory record wont continue for long.

4. Breaking the bank on cameras

Entering any taxi or limousine in Toronto, one is routinely photographed by a video camera; thus it would seem pretty straightforward to install video cameras in police cars and then establish a system to keep the records for a few months.

Not in Toronto. The Toronto force started with a pilot in late 2005, but the device failed in the handful of cars where it was tried. Then in early 2006 it was expanded to 18 cars and failed again  after $452,000 in public money had been spent. Technical problems, you see.

But the tinkering continues. The police have $8.1 million in the capital budget to install cameras in 140 cars, for a cost of about $55,000 a car. (Isnt it strange that the police have this much money to spend on experiments when so many other parts of the city budget are so short of cash?) This is something like the Toronto police attempt six years ago to get a computer based information system in place, and management decided an off-the-shelf, as used by other police forces, wasnt good enough. (See Bulletin No. 14 at www.tpac.ca .) Now, more than $17 million and half a dozen years later, Torontos e-COPS system is finally up and running.

Heres a thought: maybe the Toronto police force has been allocated more money than it knows how to reasonably spend.

5. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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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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