By TOM GODFREY
Returning chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee says this may be his last and quite likely most challenging year as head of the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB).
Minutes after he was re-elected to the high-profile board, Dr. Mukherjee was blasted by the head of the Toronto Police Association over a Facebook posting.
His re-election was welcomed by members of the community, who agree that the Board will now have time to formulate policy from initiatives it began several years ago.
Mukherjee said the Board has a busy year ahead and a top priority is to put in place a policy on street checks. They also have to select a new chief, work on mental health issues and engage in tough budgetary negotiations with the association.
“Our objective is to get unresolved items solved in the next few weeks,” Mukherjee told Share in an interview after last week’s board meeting. “We have to move forward to the implementation of policies.”
He said a number of issues have to be ironed out before a street checks policy is put in place next month.
It is “one of the most important agenda items for me”, Mukherjee told Share. “I think this (street checks) is one of the most significant items that we have dealt with.”
The contentious issue of Toronto Police racially profiling and carding members of the Black and visible minority communities for street-side checks has been a hot button issue that has led to many protests and class action lawsuits being filed against police in Toronto, Peel and Durham.
Many community activists said they can’t wait for the dreaded practice by police to be finally stopped since it often criminalizes young men by recording their encounters with police in a database to be checked for crimes.
Chief Bill Blair has already said he will end the practice of carding before he leaves office in April. No details have been given and the matter will be discussed by the board.
“We want to make sure the issue is resolved before the Chief leaves,” said Mukherjee, the longest serving chair of the Toronto police board. “Street contacts (are) one of the most critical items and our policy will look at how we provide policing in Toronto.”
The Chair said there’s a lot of work taking place behind the scenes into the election of a new chief, who will be in place this spring.
He said a job description of the Chief’s position is being circulated and qualified applicants have several weeks to apply online for the job before a shortlist of candidates is drawn up.
“We are working to have a new chief identified by early April,” said Mukherjee. “There are quite a few good potential successors inside and outside who are giving this serious thought.”
The Board is looking for an experienced leader with administrative and community-oriented skills. In the running for the top job are Deputy Chiefs Mark Saunders and Peter Sloly, who has been representing the Chief at events and led a contingent of Toronto cops to the funeral services of slain RCMP officer David Wynn in Edmonton.
Meanwhile, talks between the Board and Association for a new contract are expected to be testy since president Mike McCormack has called a number of times for Mukherjee to resign.
McCormack was angered by a controversial posting by Mukherjee on his Facebook page last month. Mukherjee has since apologized and shut the account.
Mukherjee, who is from India, was originally appointed by City Council to the Board in 2004 for a two-year term. He became vice-chair in 2004 and chair in 2005, succeeding Pam McConnell, who has since been replaced by Mayor John Tory as a board member.
He was appointed by the Ontario government for the next three year term and was re-appointed for another three year term effective in April 2013.