By PETER SLOLY, Deputy Chief, Toronto Police Service
On July 29, 1976 (exactly 37 years ago) I arrived in Canada from Jamaica and started my journey that would include discovering winter, achieving citizenship, playing for the men’s national soccer team, participating in United Nations Peacekeeping missions, serving as Deputy Chief of Police with the Toronto Police Service (TPS), becoming a father and raising my own family.
Much of my Canadian journey has been informed and influenced by Share Newspaper. The Sloly family couldn’t wait for Thursday to get our copy of Share, read the articles and debate the issues. Share gave us confidence that our priorities would be represented and our perspectives would be respected.
Share has also written stories on the institution-building successes of Caribbean immigrants like me, Alvin Curling, Mary Ann Chambers and Michael Lee Chin. In doing so, Share has helped to build the capacity of the new immigrants to impact and influence Canadian society and its institutions.
That is why Share is one of Canada’s largest ethnic newspapers. That is why when Mr. Arnold Auguste invited me to write a guest column for Share I said “yes”. That is why I want to personally thank Share.
Like Share, I have done my work as a Toronto police officer “without fear or favour” for over 25 years. Like Share, I do my best to encourage, support, represent positively and to defend the community vigorously while educating and sharing information about crime and public safety issues. I have made many contributions to Toronto and the TPS. Professionally, I led the development of community mobilization, diversity management, social media, incident command and neighborhood policing in the TPS. Personally, I have mentored youth, funded youth scholarships and participated in organizations like the BBPA, ABLE and the Jamaica Diaspora.
My contributions are a part of the positive changes in the TPS which have taken place under the leadership of Chief William Blair since he took office in 2005.
We saw Keith Forde become Canada’s first Black Deputy Chief. Progress can be seen by the fact that two of three current TPS Deputy Chiefs are Black (Mark Saunders and I), 30 per cent of all senior officers are women and/or visible minorities, (including Inspector Sonia Thomas who became Canada’s first female Black senior officer) and 50 per cent of all recruit classes are visible minorities.
We created the Youth In Policing Initiative (YIPI) where we provided employment, life skills training and mentoring to high-potential kids from our priority neighbourhoods. Progress can be seen by the fact that the TPS has hired over 1100 YIPI kids in the past seven years. We also have over 200 youth outreach programs which include after school homework clubs, sports programs, outward bound camping excursions, DJ training and music competitions, etc.
Yet, despite these great successes, great challenges remain between the police and the Black community.
Despite the fact that crime has gone down for seven consecutive years, that street gangs continue to be dismantled across the city and that Toronto has become the safest big city in North America, there are too many people (especially young Black men) involved in guns, gangs, drugs, violence and jail.
Despite the fact that the TPS has a ground breaking project charter with the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), has a command team which champions inclusive bias free police service delivery and has a Chief who stated that racial profiling exists but will not be tolerated in the TPS, there are too many people (especially Black youth) who have experienced the injustice of racial profiling.
The TPS pays close attention to Share because Share so eloquently expresses the fears and aspirations of its readership. In fact, long before any mainstream media “got action” on racial profiling in 2002, Share’s journalists were reporting on Dudley Laws efforts to address human rights abuses by police. Well before the mainstream media labeled 2005 as the “year of the gun”, Share and organizations such as the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) were working with the TPS to address violent crime impacting the Black community.
That Share influence has always impacted me professionally and personally. When I read Share’s coverage of the tragic death of beautiful, innocent Chantel Dunn I worried for my own daughter’s future. When I read Share’s story about how big brave Kenneth Mark was gunned down after standing up as a witness I feared for my younger brother’s safety. Now I am reading Share’s articles about Trayvon Martin and I find myself reflecting back to my teenager days and wondering if I could have met a similar fate.
Share helps the TPS to feel the community’s need for change in the context of “the fierce urgency of now”.
That is why the TPS is continually implementing innovative crime reduction and community building strategies which include: prioritizing crime prevention in all our crime management initiatives, assigning teams of neighborhood officers to communities across the city and developing stronger victim/witness support programs.
That is why we are piloting a “hub” service delivery model for early interventions into risky but non-criminal matters (mental illness, truancy, anti-social behaviour, domestic strife, immigration issues, etc.). The hub pilot allows multi-sectoral agencies (public health, public education, police/justice and community based organizations) to work together, share information, combine resources, case conference all to provide culturally appropriate, comprehensive, constructive early interventions that may, in most cases, preclude the need for any police action and/or criminal charges.
That’s why the Chief asked me to conduct a comprehensive review of all policies, procedures and practices for police and community engagement to improve the (inter)cultural competence of our officers so that they can better deliver bias-free policing while also further reducing crime.
I know that is what members of the community want. I also know that is what we, members of the TPS, want.
We have made a lot of progress over the past few years, especially under the leadership of Chief Blair. But there is still a lot more to do to build the kind of relationship we want to have with the community.
So, work with us, talk to us; let us build together that better future we all want for ourselves and our children.
God bless, be safe and walk good!