By TOM GODFREY
Toronto’s first Black police chief-designate, Mark Saunders, admits he has a tough job ahead of him as he meets with members of the community still irate about a new racial profiling and carding policy.
Saunders, 52, who was born in England to Jamaican parents, was selected as the next chief of the Toronto Police Service by its Board in an announcement made last Monday by Chair Alok Mukherjee and Mayor John Tory.
He is the first Black man to head the Toronto Police Service, with 5,600 cops and a budget of more than $1 billion, since the force was founded in 1834.
Saunders said his 10-year-old son reminded him that he had walked into Toronto’s history.
“That (first Black chief) they can’t take away from me,” he said during his first appearance as chief designate. No date has been set for when he will be sworn in.
“Restoring public trust is very important to me,” said Saunders. “I want to meet and sit across the table and listen and learn from those who have concerns.”
He said addressing the carding policy and concerns by the community are among his top priorities.
“The force should be bias free and I give my promise that I will work on that,” said Saunders. “I recognize this point very clearly. It is causing us collateral damage.”
A relieved Mukherjee said it was a tough decision that came down to deputy chiefs Peter Saunders, Peter Sloly and Mike Federico.
He said board members have been working long hours to find a successor for Chief Bill Blair, whose last day is April 25. There were several candidates from outside Canada who sought the $367,000 a year position.
Saunders was selected over close rival Sloly, who was born in Jamaica, and one of the first to congratulate Saunders.
Board members said Saunders comes from a strong operational and investigative background, while Sloly excels at policy but lacks front-line experience.
The race for Chief has always been seen in the community as a contest between Sloly and Saunders, a choice of the Toronto Police Association.
Saunders, who has been with the force for 32 years, now leads hundreds of officers involved in providing security for athletes during the 2015 Pan Am Parapan Am Games in August.
He proved himself as a former Unit Commander of the force’s Homicide Squad, the largest in Canada and to which he is credited for making major changes.
Saunders was also instrumental in responding to the 2009 shutdown of the Gardiner Expressway by Tamil protesters and the 2012 Occupy Toronto demonstrations.
Saunders, an avid photographer and father of four, also spent years working with the Gang and Drug Squads, Intelligence Division and the Emergency Task Force.
He created the force’s Cybercrime Unit and was also one of the authors of the “Police and Community Engagement Review,” now known as the PACER Report, that endorsed carding as a valuable policing tool.
Saunders is used to handling the tough files and is stepping in during a turbulent time between the force and the community over the profiling and carding issue, that allows officers to question and collect information from individuals who have committed no offence. Statistics show Black males are more likely to be stopped and carded than other Torontonians.
Saunders was appointed deputy chief in 2012 and is in charge of Specialized Operations Command, where he oversees 1,200 police officers, 164 civilian members and a budget of $175 million.
A cop’s cop, he holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Justice Studies from the University of Guelph-Humber.
Saunders said many years ago he decided to become a policeman because he “did not want to be stuck behind a desk”.
His selection was cautiously welcomed in the community.
“We extend our heartiest congratulations to Chief Designate Mark Saunders,” said Kingsley Gilliam of the Black Action Defense Committee. “We are very proud of his achievement.”
BADC said Saunders has attended community meetings in the past.
Anthony Morgan, a lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, said having an accomplished officer like Saunders at the helm could make an “important difference”.