Just like the late Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to eradicating racism and fighting injustices, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) is resolved to comprehensively addressing bias in policing.
“This organization has chosen to join Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’,” Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said in his keynote address at the Service’s 20th annual Black History Month celebration at police headquarters last week.
He said the Service will use the recently tabled Police & Community Engagement Report (PACER) to drive the necessary changes.
In March 2012, Chief Bill Blair directed a review of community engagement, particularly surrounding the information that’s collected by police about people they come in contact with on the job. The review team recognized the need to address bias and racial profiling issues. As a result, Blair expanded the review’s scope and the PACER team was set up in June 2012.
Sloly is the executive sponsor of the project which unveiled 31 recommendations last October. A total of 12 of the recommendations have been completed, seven are substantially done and the remaining 12 are in the early implementation stage.
The completed recommendations include the formation of a community advisory committee to work continuously with the Service, a requirement that racism/bias complaints are to be assigned to the Service’s Professional Standards unit for a full investigation and a ground-breaking Memorandum of Understanding with the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Centre for Police Equity which is a self-funded academic body that includes some of the foremost subject-matter experts on racial profiling and police legitimacy.
“The mission of PACER is to end racial profiling and to make the Toronto Police Service a world leader in bias-free police delivery,” said Sloly. “The PACER report will never sit on a shelf and gather dust. It’s a living, breathing, community mobilizing, action-producing implementation plan….Over the past year, the quantity of contact cards have been reduced by approximately 90 per cent. In that same period, major crime was also reduced by double digits. So we are already seeing strong indicators of changed officer performance, system efficiencies and police effectiveness. We have a long way to go down the long walk to freedom from racial profiling, but the PACER project has come a long way in a short time.”
This year’s celebration paid tribute to Mandela, the first Black president of a democratic South Africa, the first foreign leader awarded the Order of Canada (1998) and the first living non-Canadian to receive honorary citizenship which took place during his last visit to Canada 13 years ago.
The Nobel Prize laureate died last December after a lengthy illness. He was 95.
The theme of the celebration was, “The Power of Choice”.
“Making good and tough choices over the course of one’s life is no easy thing,” said Sloly who heads the Divisional Policing command. “It takes character and courage in order to make the kind of choices needed to better lives and create better societies. Nelson Mandela’s ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ was all about the power of choice. It was about one magnificent man’s character and courage to choose to bring an end to apartheid in South Africa.”
While in Kosovo on a United Nations peacekeeping mission just over a decade ago, Sloly took a week’s leave to visit South Africa.
“One of my first assignments in Kosovo was to create a human rights legal framework for their police and my partner in this assignment was a White South African lawyer who worked for the African National Congress in negotiating Mandela’s release from prison,” he said. “When I told her Mandela was a personal hero, she encouraged me to visit South Africa and so I did.
Sloly visited Soweto – a Black township in Johannesburg – and Capetown’s Robben Island where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in captivity. He also bought a copy of Mandela’s autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom”.
“The night that Mandela died, I retrieved “Long Walk to Freedom” and read it with my seven-year-old daughter,” said Sloly. “It reinforced the righteousness of the path that PACER is on and it re-energized my personal commitment and the Toronto Police Service’s choice to keep walking down that long road…Let’s walk it together for Madiba.”
Anne Cools, Canada’s longest serving Senator appointed by late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1984, retired Justice of the Peace Arthur Downes who helped develop and implement the Service’s Black Community Police Consultative Committee, members of the Caribbean consul corps in Toronto and senior police officers attended the celebration.
Now retired Sgt. Terry James conceived the idea for a Black History Month celebration which was first held in 1994.