The new police chief of Toronto

By Patrick Hunter Wednesday February 25 2015 in Opinion
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There are many things about the City of Toronto that put it in a unique category in Canada. It is the country’s largest city. It has a population of about two million. Its demographic is by far the most diverse.


Its police service, the largest urban service in Canada, as one would expect, has a complement of more than 5,000 uniformed officers. The breakdown of the racial makeup is not available but one can safely say that the majority of these officers are White – and male.


The days of the police “force”, if it is not over yet, should be. We require a service that stands up to its motto: To Serve and Protect. In other words, it is a tool of our community – for community safety.


At the same time, the service is not built as a democratic institution. It is a para-military structure with a rigid line of command. At its head is a chief who reports to a civilian board.


It should be clear that the leader of this kind of service needs to be more than just an experienced police officer – one who is expected to know the ins and outs of good policing and good policing techniques. That person should also have the capacity to lead – to be the top commander of a uniformed service of 5,000. Other requirements of this person would include being a good administrator, an excellent strategic thinker and someone who understands the needs of the community this service serves.


The last requirement, in a city like Toronto, is a most important one – if not the most important.


It is no secret that there is a long-standing gulf between the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and the Black community. It is not the only gulf that exists between the police and different communities within the greater Toronto community. Conflicts have arisen between the police and other racialized communities as well as persons with mental health issues mainly because of its treatment of them. However, the relationship between the Black community and the TPS continues to be the most tense and the most likely to erupt at any given time.


It is worth pointing out here that the relationship between the TPS and Toronto’s Black community is not unique. If you take a look at every major metropolitan city – in North America and in Europe – there seems to be tension between the police and the Black community. The common denominator appears to be a basic disrespect for Black people – racism.


Under Chief William Blair, the TPS finally acknowledged racial profiling as an issue, instead of the position of his predecessor to deny its existence, at least publicly. Under Blair, the Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) report was produced. Deputy Chief Peter Sloly headed it up. The five goals that PACER sought are commendable. The top two are:


1) To establish the purpose, legality and governance framework for community engagements and information obtained therein.


2) To assess and address issues of racial profiling and bias in community engagements (at both the individual and systemic levels) to enable the delivery of bias-free police services.


In these two points, there is a suggestion of a balance between police investigations and community engagement.


What has erupted over the past couple of years is that the “community engagement” aspect has further tended to criminalize the Black community, and Black youth in particular.


Whomever the new chief happens to be, he or she will have to essentially change the culture of this organization. That means changing how officers view and interact with the Black community – particularly, Black youth.


The new chief should of course come with policing expertise. However, someone outside of Toronto, or Ontario for that matter, would lack an understanding of the deep gulf that exists between the police and the Black community.


As I have noted in a previous column, of the four current deputy chiefs, Sloly is the best known. He has made it a mission to interface with the community and while he has tried to defend “carding”, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he had to toe the line of supporting Chief Blair’s position on the issue. Should Sloly be given the job as chief, he will have to move quickly and definitively to clarify the carding issue. I say clarify because the “one good thing” about carding is that it helps to provide evidence of racial profiling in the TPS.


The position as chief is, whether we want to believe it or not, a highly political one, especially now. For example, why did Mayor John Tory want to sit on the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) so much that he removed the only Black councillor from the Board?


My sense is that if Sloly is appointed, it would be a signal that the powers-that-be want to see better “community engagement” and an attack against racial profiling. The appointment of someone else could signal a greater emphasis on policing of the type that reasserts that every Black person, and particularly Black youth, is a potential criminal.


Email: / Twitter: @pghntr

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