Bulletins

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 126, November 27, 2020

November 27th 2020

In this issue:
1. Finally, a new search of persons policy
2. Dealing with those in mental crisis
3. The complicated body worn camera policy
4. Collecting racial data
5. RE-funding police in Alberta

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 126, November 27, 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. Finally, a new search of persons policy
2. Dealing with those in mental crisis
3. The complicated body worn camera policy
4. Collecting racial data
5. RE-funding police in Alberta
6. Subscribe to the Bulletin
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1. Finally, a new search of persons policy

Better late than never.

Nineteen years after the Supreme Court of Canada outlined what the Toronto Police Service should do, the service has finally done it.

Nineteen months after the Office of the Independent Police Review Director said it was unconscionable that the Toronto Police Service strip searched 40 per cent of those arrested while other large police forces in Ontario strip searched only 1 per cent of those arrested, the service decided to act on its report.

Some 40 court cases involving strip searches by Toronto police since the Supreme Court ruling in 2001 showed that the courts had continuing problems with the searches by Toronto police. The Police Services Board refused to take those court decisions as a sign that some leadership was required.

TPAC raised the issue in 2004 (See Bulletin No. 13, September 1, 2004), and in Bulletin No. 27, March 17, 2006 we specifically asked that a strip search not be undertaken until a frisk had shown there was something being hidden on the body. At that time, the Toronto Police Service was then strip searching one third of those arrested. The Police Service Board refused to act.

TPAC has raised the issue at the Board every year since 2006 when the strip search statistics were presented, asking for the police to first do a level two search – a frisk – justifying why a strip search was necessary as determined by the Supreme Court. Every year the Board refused to take action and show leadership.

The new policy calls for four levels of search – a protective or preliminary search, a frisk or pat-down, a strip search and then a full body search. The requirement is that the simplest search is the starting point and the officer cannot move on to the next level of search unless there are reasonable ground to believe there is a problem. A strip search requires the consent of a supervisor. See:
https://www.tpsb.ca/component/jdownloads/send/32-agendas/650-november-24-2020-agenda

The new policy has been in place for about a month and there has been a substantial decrease in the number of strip searches.

Yes, the new policy should be adopted. Interim Chief Ramer and his staff should be congratulated for doing something which Chief Bill Blair, Chief Mark Saunders, and the Board have refused to do.

TPAC asked the Board to apologize to the many many people who have been needlessly strip searched during the past 19 years, but it declined the opportunity.

2. Dealing with those in mental crisis

Since the City Council decision on June 29 to help establish a civilian based response to those in mental crisis as an alternative to a police response, there have been all kinds of activities to sort out how that might look: round tables, questionnaires, and consultations. Some argue that mental health institutions should not be involved; some argue for a few smaller pilot projects in specific parts of the city to see what works. It seems the consultants contracted by the city will be reporting in January on next steps.

Meanwhile, the Toronto police services forges ahead. It has received the green light from the Police Service Board to expand the Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams into a 24/7 service throughout the city, a considerable expansion. TPAC has been advocating for civilian-led teams and unarmed responses to people in crisis for some years.
Three other useful changes: a crisis worker from a community agency will assist in the 911 centre regarding diversion of calls for service involving those who seem in mental crisis; MCITs will be first responders in cases involving self harm/attempted suicide and people acting in a bizarre manner, again something TPAC has been pushing for; and uniforms will be reconsidered given their negative impact on those in mental crisis.

The report says these changes and the new staffing will be funded from existing resources – that is, no new funding will be requested for the expanded MCITs.

But here is the problem. City Council decided in June it wishes to see responses to calls about those in mental crisis to be handled by civilian agencies, not the police, yet the proposal from the police is that the police should remain in charge of this expanded service. The reality is that once the expanded police services are in place the police will ensure they are not reduced. and they will continue to be a danger to people in crisis.

TPAC believes it makes more sense for the police service to transfer the money for the existing MCITs and the proposed expansion to community agencies so that they can provide this service as decided by Toronto City Council. We believe that community agencies can have a civilian service up and running as quickly as the Toronto police service could expand the MCIT service if those funds are made available to them.

We wished the Police Service Board had agreed. There’s a struggle ahead to protect those in mental crisis.

3. The complicated body worn camera policy

TPAC has consistently imposed spending a great level of spending of body cameras: there is no reason to think they will make any improvement in. the way in which policing is done, nor will they bring accountability. But the decision has bene made to purchase the cameras and a policy has been developed, and approve, for their use. See: https://www.tpsb.ca/component/jdownloads/send/32-agendas/650-november-24-2020-agenda

Here’s an introduction to the policy: “Strong levels of discretion in the activation of the cameras have resulted in negligible, and even negative outcomes. However, overly restrictive conditions can also result in negative outcomes, including compromising the right to privacy of officers and the public. Conversely, overly restrictive conditions on the activation of Body Worn Cameras may result in police officers being required to activate cameras during innocuous interactions that are unrelated to law enforcement or investigation, thus building new barriers to trust-building in daily interactions between Service Members and members of the public.”
The policy says: “the proposed Policy requires Service Members to record all direct interactions with the public, with clearly defined and restricted exceptions developed in consultation with the IPC to protect the dignity and privacy of members of the public in specific and highly sensitive situations. Further, the proposed Policy establishes strict restrictions on access to BWC recordings, and a clear audit trail requirement that facilitates ongoing monitoring to guard against unauthorized and unjustified access to recordings.”
Which means: sometimes the camera is on, and sometimes it is not. It is a complicated policy. We will see how it plays out in the hands of individual officers.

4. Collecting racial data

The Toronto Police Service has begun a series of information sessions about the TPS race data collection strategy.
See: http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/race-based-data/

But with all the talk about data collection, training and community consultations, there has been no willingness to heed the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s call for legally binding remedies. The OHRC called on the TPS, TPSB and the City of Toronto to formally establish a process with Black communities and organizations and the OHRC, to adopt legally binding remedies that will result in fundamental shifts in the practices and culture of policing, and address and eliminate systemic racism and anti-Black racial bias in policing. That’s not in the policy.

Peel Regional Police has signed any agreement with the OHRC which includes legally binding obligations. Why can’t Toronto agree??

5. RE-funding police in Alberta

The Calgary Police Board has taken the defunding call seriously. It has proposed cuts of $26 million from the police budget of $414 million, or a 6 per cent cut. Some sixty new positions (costing $10 million) will not be funded; $10 million will be re-allocated from the police to alternative call response organizations regarding those in mental crisis; $ 8 million will be given from the police budget to social organizations; and the costs of COVID, estimated at $20 million, will be absorbed by the police.

The police chief has agreed to these changes.

But the Minister of Justice for Alberta is furious. He says if the Calgary Board tries to defund the police, he will find ways to step in so funds are not cut - a good example of a provincial government exercising its political muscle to interfere with local decisions. Edmonton is also on the point of deciding to reassign $11 million from the police budget.

If the Councils and the Chiefs of police agree with the cuts, what’s the minister’s problem?

6. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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