Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 122, June 16, 2020.

June 16th 2020

1. Police Board an impediment to change
2. TPAC to City Council on defunding police
3. TPAC in the news
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 122, June 16, 2020.
This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC), 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. Police Board an impediment to change
2. TPAC to City Council on defunding police
3. TPAC in the news
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. Police Board an impediment to change

At a very moment when the police service in Toronto – and Canada – is under significant pressure to change its basic functions, and the chief of police has unexpectedly resigned, the Toronto Police Services Board has refused to allow the public to propose to it the new directions police service should take.

TPAC submitted a brief on June 12 to depute to the Board on June 19 concerning the direction the Board should take before deciding to hire a new chief. It proposed establishing a committee to make recommendations on some of the big issues the public has raised – ending anti-Black and ant-Indigenous racism, reassigning various functions from police to social agencies, and more. Our letter to the Board is at https://www.tpac.ca/issue.php?id=236

The Board replied: “The Board has not made decisions with regard to the selection process, so a deputation on this matter is premature. The Chair advised that we will place your deputation request on the July public agenda.”

Of course, TPAC wishes to make its advice known before the Board makes a decision: the Board seems to assume it will make a decision first and then hear from the public.

The Board agenda was published on the afternoon of June 15. It pretends that it is business as usual. It is a `virtual’ meeting so TPAC representatives and others will not be able to make their presence known at the meeting.

The Toronto Police Service Board has a long record of not responding to public concerns. It tried for many years to prevent any action to stop carding; it refused to follow the advice of the Office of the Independent Police Review Director who showed that Toronto police strip searched at a level 40 times (40 times!) higher than any other large police force in Ontario; it has refused to ensure that the first response to those in mental crisis is made by the Mobile Crisis Intervention Unit rather than by armed, uniformed officers, with fatal results; it has refused for many years to provide reasonable information about how it spends public funds.

This not an agency which is acting in the public interest. Four of its members are from or appointed by city council: Mayor John Tory, Councillors Michael Ford and Frances Nunziata, and citizen appointee Jim Hart, who also serves as chair. The other three appointees are made by the province.

A reasonable police board would be encouraging public debate about next steps, not preventing it.
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If you wish to express your opinion to the Board on this matter, the Board administrator is at Diana.Achim@tpsb.ca .

2. TPAC to Council on defunding police

Councillors Matlow and Wong Tam have a motion before City Council on June 29 recommending that the police service budget be cut by 10 per cent in 2021. After discussion with other councillors the motion has since been amended - see https://www.kristynwongtam.ca/member_motion_defundtps - and it might be amended further in the next two weeks.

TPAC wrote to city council as follows:

We are pleased that Members of Council are beginning to question spending by the Toronto police service and the functions they perform. These are issues that TPAC has addressed for the last twenty years, and it is not unfair to say that the polices service and the Police Services Board have never been willing to fully address the questions raised about how money is spent. As well, the Board has consistently refused to provide a fair budget accounting similar to that required of every other city service.

It makes good sense to look closely at the police service and determine what functions would better be provided by others, and where money is not being spent wisely. We ask Council to consider the following changes:

1) Stop the plan to equip all officers with body-worn cameras.

The cost of this plan is $20 – 30 million a year, and as studies have shown, body-worn cameras do nothing to address questions of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism nor do they change police behaviour.

The Toronto police service undertook a pilot project on body worn cameras in 2016 at a cost of $432,000. The report on the pilot project states `there was no significant incident or situation that arose that would have provided an opportunity for the body-worn cameras and associated video to demonstrate value, or lack thereof, for police accountability and public trust.’

The report concludes `the quantitative results were not compelling. No cases with body-worn camera evidence went to court, so it is impossible to assess the use of the cameras in court.’ Also, `video corruption was a major technical issue’ and recovery was not always successful.

The cost of buying cameras for all frontline officers was estimated at $85 million over ten years. Storing the videos would cost more than $20 million for year one, and about $50 million over five years. Each officer would need about two hours during every shift to upload, classify and redact the videos made that day, at a cost at up to $20,000 per officer per year.

Having spent $432,000 public dollars on the pilot project, the Board decided in any case to proceed with the cameras. All other major police forces in Canada except Calgary obviously took the advice of Toronto’s pilot project, and have decided body worn cameras are not a worthwhile investment.

A more recent study was done in 2019 for the mayor of Washington D.C. It was a large-scale field experiment involving 2,224 officers randomly assigned cameras (or not), tracked for a minimum of 7 months. “Our results indicate that cameras did not meaningfully affect police behavior on a range of outcomes, including complaints and use of force. We show that Body Worn Cameras have very small and statistically insignificant effects on police use of force and civilian complaints, as well as other policing activities and judicial outcomes. These results suggest we should recalibrate our expectations of Body Worn Cameras’ ability to induce large-scale behavioral changes in policing, particularly in contexts similar to Washington, DC.”

Police culture is so strong that their being filmed has no impact on their behaviour: police culture eats body worn cameras for lunch, just as it eats training in such matters as de-escalation.

2) Responding to mental crisis calls:

There were 30,689 calls Toronto police responded to last year involving a person in mental crisis. The last four or five people who have died after interactions with Toronto police have been people in mental crisis, and they have all been Black, Indigenous or people of colour. It makes sense to have a new arrangement that instead of police responding to these calls, there should be rapid response teams co-ordinated by CAMH, hospitals and social agencies, leaving the police out of such calls altogether unless those teams ask for police assistance. It will result in better outcomes and will take police out of something they shouldn’t be doing – and don’t want to do. Re-assigning the funds now spent by police for this function will probably cover the cost of these units.

3) Responding to domestic violence, sexual assault, drug overdose, homelessness, and related calls

Similar arrangements should be made for the calls noted above, having well-funded crisis teams established by social and other appropriate agencies responding to such calls. There has been much dissatisfaction over the years about the way in which police deal with these issues and it is clear better responses can be made by non-police agencies.

4) Researching how police spend their time.

Data about Toronto police activity in 2019 is provided in a report by Chief Saunders to the Toronto Police Board meeting on May 21.

The number of individuals arrested for Criminal Code and Drug related offences last year was 26,865. That’s six people arrested by each of the 4500 uniformed officers a year, or one every two months. Or, assuming that 25 per cent of the officers are detectives, administrators and so forth and 75 per cent are front line officers, then each front line officer arrests eight people a year.

Officers attended 416,787 calls for service. Using the 25/75 ratio noted above, front line officers each answered 120 calls for service last year. Assuming each worked about 220 shifts in 2019, that’s less than one call every shift.

It is important to find out what front line officers actually do, how they spend their time. This work should be undertaken by independent researchers. The results will assist in determining the funding needed for police service.

Having said that, we do know the vast majority of people charged in Toronto are not charged with serious violent crimes. For example, Statistics Canada data (“Incident-based crime statistics, by detailed violations, police services in Ontario”) demonstrates that in 2018 a total of 29,887 people were charged with Criminal Code violations by the Toronto Police Service, and among those charged, only less than 2 per cent (542) were charged with the following major offences: homicide, attempted murder, aggravated assault, sexual assault (aggravated), sexual assault (weapon or bodily harm), forcible confinement, kidnapping, and extortion.

5) Rethink the mounted unit

It is unclear how many millions are spent annually on the mounted unit, which largely seems like police frill. There are good reasons to think that money can be better spent by other organizations.

We believe Council is embarking on an important task in looking at the funding of police services in Toronto. Our suggestions are only an initial set of ideas. We are sure the public will come forward with other good ideas which need to be explored.

3. TPAC in the news

Two members of the TPAC steering committee have been in the news recently.

An op-ed piece by Chris Williams was published in the Toronto Star on June 10: “The vast majority of police activity in Toronto has nothing to do with addressing serious violent criminality. In 2018, for example, 4,635 people were charged with theft under $5,000, 3,345 were charged with shoplifting under $5,000, 996 were charged with fraud and 772 were charged with mischief. In contrast, 168 people were charged with aggravated assault, 130 were charged with forcible confinement or kidnapping, 102 were charged with attempted murder, and 70 were charged with homicide.”

See https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/06/10/defunding-police-will-not-compromise-public-safety.html

John Sewell was interviewed by Michael Enright on CBC’s Sunday Edition on June 14. See https://www.cbc.ca/radio/thesundayedition/the-sunday-edition-for-june-14-2020-1.5604357/powerful-forces-will-fight-the-call-to-defund-police-departments-1.5604436

4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
To subscribe or unsubscribe to this Bulletin, please send a note to info@tpac.ca 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 .

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Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
Tel: 416-977-5097 E-mail: info@tpac.ca