Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 123, July 3, 2020.

July 3rd 2020

In this issue:
1. Council sets a new policing agenda for Toronto
2. Waiting for the reaction
3. Police Board meeting July 9

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 123, July 3, 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. Council sets a new policing agenda for Toronto
2. Waiting for the reaction
3. Police Board meeting July 9
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. Council sets a new policing agenda for Toronto

Some of the more progressive members of Toronto City Council are disappointed at the June 29 decisions of Council about policing. Yes, Council rejected the motion to cut the police budget next year by 10 per cent, but it did pass a series of 31 motions which make a good start at change. The motions can be found here: http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2020.CC22.2

Some of the significant decisions:
a) City staff was instructed to implement a non-police community based response system based on CAHOOTS model in Eugene Oregon for calls dealing with homelessness, intoxication, substance abuse, mental illness, and dispute resolution.
(See https://www.npr.org/2020/06/10/874339977/cahoots-how-social-workers-and-police-share-responsibilities-in-eugene-oregon )
b) City staff was instructed to develop with community based organizations, social services and mental health support groups a service for non-police led response to those in mental crisis (similar to (a) above); and in the interim the police service is asked to extend the Mobile Crisis Intervention Units to cover more time periods and more of the city - although the police service requires armed uniformed officers to be first responders, never the MCUI, which is why there have been a number of deaths.
c) The police service is asked to provide a line by line 2020 operating budget to be made public by July.
d) The province is asked for a legislative amendment to permit the city auditor to audit the police service and in interim, Council asked the Police Board to permit the auditor to do that audit.
e) The province is asked to amend the law so allegations of serious police misconduct be investigated by OIPRD not by the police professional standards unit.
f) Council set some guidelines for the selection of a new chief of police: the individual should have a proven record of enacting non-violent de-escalation; a demonstrated ability to build bridges to racialized and marginalized communities; to consider other models than police of first response to non-violent incidents. As well, Council instructed the City’s Anti-Black Racism Unit to be involved in community consultations for a new chief.
g) Council has required that the police service have an open data portal where detailed information about police activities will be publicly posted on a division level. This would include datasets on Reported Crime, Persons Charged, Victims of Crime, Search of Persons, Firearms, Traffic, Personnel & Budget, Calls for Service.

Given how difficult it has been to make any change in policing in the last few decades, this Council meeting showed how much things have changed since the murder by a police officer of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the subsequent attention to systemic racism among police forces in Canada. The size of the public rallies against racism and the strong voice of Black Lives Matter have played crucial roles in this change.

Council also decided to ask the police service to provide all officers with body-worn cameras effective January 2021. TPAC thinks this is not helpful: the experience is that body-worn cameras do not change police behavior, and while the cost for Toronto is estimated to be $5 million a year, TPAC believes it will be much higher.

One should also note that the motion before Council to take guns from rank and file police officers lost by a vote of 16 – 8, but seeing eight councillors prepared to vote in favour of disarming the rank and file officers is encouraging.

How Council got to adopt these motions is interesting. The process began with a motion filed by Councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong Tam that the police budget for 2021 be cut by 10 per cent (about $100 million) and those funds be used for social services of various kinds. There was push-back to this arbitrary cut, but given the public demonstrations, councillors looked for some alternative action. Councillors Shelley Carroll and Michael Thompson (both former members of the Police Services Board) then prepared some ideas, and that led Mayor Tory to propose a motion which made some changes but didn’t really shift the power structure. When the mayor’s motion was before Council, a number of different councillors then introduced amendments of various kinds, many of which were adopted. It was a very fluid process, again assisted by the large outpouring of public support for change. More than 225 letters were filed at Council by residents asking for change, and councillors said they had been deluged with personal emails.

Can this pressure for change be sustained? That’s a big question.

As for the Toronto Police Services Board, it played no part in the Council decisions. It has shown it is not a player in changing policing. Councillors Frances Nunziata and Michael Ford are Council appointees to the Board: they played no meaningful part in the Council decisions, in fact Ford was one of the few councillors to vote against some of the changes made. The voice of Jim Hart, the chair of the Board and a Council appointee, was never heard. The three provincial appointees were entirely silent.

What is the role of the Board from this point on? It is the kind of organization that can stand in the way of useful change, as it has in the past, and it seems incapable of reshaping the police service into something more appropriate for Toronto.

2. Waiting for the reaction

For every action, it is said there is an equal and opposite reaction. One can expect the Toronto Police Association and its president, Mike McCormick, to react strongly to the City Council motions. In the past the Association has been hostile to change it did not initiate.

The tried and true techniques of the Association have first been to attack those asking for change. It has looked closely at the personal lives of its critics to find weak spots (we have all done embarrassing things) and then make insinuations to intimidate those critics. One can expect it will do that to the councillors who have spoken out most clearly for change, starting with Matlow and Wong Tam. In the past it has made allegations of questionable behaviour of its critics to belittle them, even though those allegations have no substance. One can expect the Association to do that as well.

The Association also uses police action to distract attention from positive change: it will find some insult to a police officer, then have all officers refuse to wear their full uniform, or refuse to respond to certain kinds of calls, or refuse to issue parking tickets (to deny the city expected revenue) or whatever.

Expect the Toronto Police Association to intervene to attempt to upset the process of change.

3. Police Board meeting July 9

The Toronto Police Service Board has called a virtual meeting – by video link – on Thursday July 9, starting at 9 am. Many people asked to speak to the Board meeting on June 26, but the Board decided to put those speakers over to July 9. The technology the Board uses for its virtual meetings means that trying to participate is very frustrating.

TPAC asked to speak on June 26 on the process to be used to consider an interim chief and general police change but was denied. Then the Board held an in camera meeting to appoint an interim chief and begin the process of selecting a new chief. But Section 35 of the Police Services Act says meetings of the Board `shall be open to the public’, with only two exceptions: `matters involving public security’ and `matters involving intimate financial or personal matters.’ The Board’s business involved nothing of the kind – particularly since it immediately announced in a media release what it had done. Our letter pointing out the law and asking the Board to rethink those decisions has never received a response.

The Board is a slippery animal, quite willing to forget about its obligations, its limitations, and its duties to the public.

Which raises the question: what does one usefully say to the Board on July 9?

We believe it should be made clear that structurally the Board seems unable to act on the larger issues facing the police service and the ways in which that service needs to be changed. It has been unwilling to respond to requests for changes in the past – such as not having armed uniformed officers be first responders to calls involving those in mental crisis, or releasing detailed budget information, both of which City Council established as new approaches on June 29 – and the Board has been eerily silent on what role it might play in a new agenda for policing since the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the ensuing rallies and demonstrations.

The Board should recognize its limitations and agree that a larger group, representing more diversity of interests, be given the task of developing a new agenda for policing in Toronto. That group should consist of 12 – 15 individuals, of whom a majority are from Black, Indigenous and racialized communities, and a majority of whom are women, and it should be tasked with presenting a new agenda for policing in Toronto within six months. The Board should agree to appoint three of its members to this group, and it should ask City Council to appoint the remainder.

The Board should also indicate that it will adopt and implement all of the motions approved by City Council on June 29.

We believe this is the kind of approach that should be advocated to the Police Service Board on July 9.

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