Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 146, July 19, 2023.

July 19th 2023

In this issue:
1. Training officers in mental crisis response
2. Wrongful convictions
3. TPAC renewal

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 146, July 19, 2023.

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 .
In this issue:
1. Training officers in mental crisis response
2. Wrongful convictions
3. TPAC renewal
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Training officers in mental crisis response

It has been a long time coming. In a report in 2017 the Ontario Ombudsman asked the Ontario government to deal with the issue of training officers to respond compassionately and non-violently to people in mental health crises, but the government yawned and looked away (See Bulletin No. 101, January 11, 2017.)

Finally, after years of public discussion about police dealing inappropriately with those in mental crisis, the Ontario Police College, where all recruits in Ontario (more than 1300 a year) are required to spend three months being educated about policing, has agreed to add mental crisis response to its training agenda.

Previously, the issue was dealt with tangentially, as part of other topics. Now, 18 hours has been added for mental crisis response. That’s less than 5 per cent of the training time spent by recruits at the College, significantly less than the time recruits spend learning how to use firearms. And 18 hours is a fraction of the time actual social and community workers spend learning about how to work with the same people in a way that protects them from further harm.

As Curt Taylor Griffiths, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University, says in the Globe and Mail, “Whether you like it or not, [as a police officer] you’re a social worker, a psychologist, a mental-health counsellor. You’re a first responder to people in crisis – a lot of whom have mental-health issues.

“The curriculum should be built around what police officers today are actually asked to do. And then you work backwards from that and build the training.”
There’s no question but that this small change in training is good thing. But a better option is to get police out of responding to mental crisis calls and have it done by community organizations. It is less expensive and the results are far better as noted in the Report on Community Safety, see Bulletin No. 127, January 27, 2021.

The Toronto pilot project with community-based response was established 18 months ago. Police divert some of the more than 30,000 calls regarding mental crisis which it receives in a year to community agencies. That has been very successful and should be expanded, taking money from police service and devoting it to community response.
Prof. Griffiths says the time allocated to each topic reflects what is being prioritized. For example, physical fitness is given 16.5 hours, while community policing is given 4.5 hours. Intimate partner violence is given 9 hours, while defensive tactics are given 33 hours. Diversity and professional police practices is given 12 hours, while police vehicle operations are given 18 hours.

“They’re spending more hours getting ready to know how to march during their graduation ceremony than they are in community policing,” Prof. Griffiths said of the patrol model, which focuses on building relationships between officers and the communities they serve.
“Does this curriculum reflect what officers in Ontario are being asked to do – whether they should be asked to do it or not? I look at this and I say no.”
See: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-ontario-police-mental-health-response/?utm_campaign=Quorum&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Quorum_70
2. Wrongful Convictions

`Wrongfully Convicted’, the new book by U of T professor Kent Roach, is a masterful summary of many of those wrongfully convicted in Canada, and what can be done to reduce these injustices. He notes that even if the justice system is right 99.5 per cent of the time, that still means about 400 people a year are wrongfully convicted.

The police bear some responsibilities for the wrongful convictions, but others are also responsible: prosecutors, defense lawyers, forensic expert witnesses, judges. The parole board also punishes those who refuse to admit to crimes they did not commit by refusing to grant them parole.

Here are some of the suggested changes police could make to reduce wrongful convictions.
a) Interrogations of serious cases should be videotaped from start to finish. The duration of these interrogations should be limited, and support persons (perhaps lawyers) should be permitted to be present for those most vulnerable to false confessions. Texas already has made these changes. Roach thinks federal legislation is best to secure these changes, but there is no reason why a police service (such as Toronto) cannot institute these changes on its own.

b) Mistaken identity is a serious problem in wrongful convictions: we think we are good at identifying people, but we aren’t: we are very prone to suggestions of who the person is that we thought we saw. Photo line-ups need to be better, using double-blind techniques where the police officer who presents the line-up is not involved in the investigation of the offense.

c) Police should not be permitted to employ the `Mr. Big sting’, where police pose as a criminal gang offering benefits unless the suspect confesses to a crime police are investigating. The courts have criticized such an approach, but Roach recommends it be prohibited as in the United Kingdom.

Roach’s book has many amazing stories about wrongful convictions. Most impressive to this reader was the story of how David Milgaard was finally exculpated. A court official had been convinced that Milgaard was not guilty and contrary to the prosecutor’s recommendation to destroy the evidence, which the court agreed to in standard fashion, the official protected a key piece of evidence with semen stains and it was used many years later to show Milgaard was not the perpetrator. As well, Milgaard’s mother happened to waylay Prime Minister Brian Mulroney in a hotel lobby to ask him to review the case. Mulroney referred it to his Minister of Justice who had previously refused to revisit the case, but this time the Minister agreed to push the matter back to court.

Since the book was published, the federal government has introduced Bill C-40, the Miscarriage of Justice Review Commission Act otherwise known as David and Joyce Milgaard's Law. It would establish an independent commission to review miscarriage of justice claims. It is loosely based on a commission headed by former judges Harry Laforme, and Juanita Westmoreland-Traore, but not all of that commission’s recommendations have been included in the legislation. Debate on the Bill will occur in the Fall when the House of Commons resumes sitting.
3) TPAC renewal

TPAC has been in existence for 23 years, and it is time for renewal.

We consist of a steering committee of about ten people. We meet every few months by zoom to discuss strategy and initiatives, and we consult regularly on briefs to the Toronto Police Service Board, and to think about reaching out to the public and to specific groups. We have an email list of almost 1500 people who receive our Bulletin every few months.

Renewal for us comes in the form of new members for the steering committee. We want people from diverse backgrounds who can get along with each other and help push for a progressive agenda for policing in Toronto. If you have an interest in being part of this renewal, please let us know about yourself in a note to info@tpac.ca.

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 .


Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
E-mail: info@tpac.ca