As a Constable at 11 Division, Mark Saunders stood out in the eyes of his then unit commander, Keith Forde.
“He was very gifted, smart and his investigate knowledge was superior,” said Forde who retired from the Toronto Police Service as deputy chief two years ago. “There was something about that guy that told me he was going to go a long way in this organization.”
Saunders has not disappointed. Last week, he was unveiled as the service’s newest deputy.
“Mark is very humble, he’s not one for much fanfare and he has a special way of dealing with people in that he makes everyone feel as if they are the most important person,” said Forde.
The Toronto Police Services Board selects the deputies and the chief.
“They obviously recognize that talent comes in all forms, including gender, nationality and colour,” said Forde. “Mark has the opportunity to work with a Chief (Bill Blair) who allows you to develop your potential and grow and two deputies in Mike Federico and Peter Sloly who will help him along the way.”
Saunders made the leap to deputy from acting superintendent and unit commander at 12 Division, where he combined a powerful uniformed enforcement presence with a strong investigative component and a clear emphasis on community investment and customer service.
Prior to that assignment, he was the first visible minority to head the Homicide Unit, where he instituted major structural changes in the two years he was there that resulted in improvements to the “solve rates” in death investigations.
As Incident Commander, he successfully spearheaded police responses during several large scale operations, including the 2009 Tamil and this year’s May Day Occupy Toronto protests that involved methodically balancing community safety concerns with the right to peaceful protest.
Saunders also was responsible for restructuring how the Service gathers, processes and distributes street gang intelligence in his role as section head of the Intelligence Operations urban gang unit and he co-chaired the Black Community Consultative Committee.
Board chair, Dr. Alok Mukherjee, said Saunders’ appointment is a positive step forward for Canada’s largest municipal police service.
“He is an accomplished police leader with exceptional investigative skills and law enforcement experience,” said Dr. Mukherjee. “At the same time, he is innovative and progressive with a keen awareness of the need to ensure that the police engage and respond to the community in an inclusive, unbiased and collaborative manner, using a variety of outreach and education initiatives.”
Mukherjee said Saunders understands the critical importance of a positive relationship between the police and the public and is personally committed to fostering and enhancing this relationship.
“He also brings to the position a fresh vision for the organization, a clear understanding of the multiple challenges we face today and a focus on change management,” said Mukherjee. “A long-time resident of the city, Mark knows Toronto well and deeply cares for its well-being and safety.”
Saunders said he applied for the position because the present command is extremely strong and visionary.
“This is a great opportunity to be part of a team that’s turning the former in policing,” he said.
Saunders joined the Service in 1982 after initially applying to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
“While I was waiting for a response from them, my brother suggested that I look at something closer, so I sent an application to Toronto Police and was accepted,” he said. “I got a positive response from the RCMP, which I declined after the Service sent me a congratulatory letter.”
The new deputy said he opted for a career in law enforcement because of the myriad opportunities it offers.
“It seemed like a career where, every day, you would be doing something different,” said Saunders. “I did not want to be stuck behind a desk. Looking back, I made the right decision and I am happy.”
Saunders has also worked with One District Drug Squad, the Emergency Task Force and the Fugitive Squad.
He’s assigned to the Specialized Operations Command, comprised of various investigative squads consisting of some of the Service’s most critically important units, all staffed by specially trained members.
By RON FANFAIR