Will police conference address conflicts with Black community?

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Tom Godfrey By Tom Godfrey
Wednesday September 28 2016




Some residents are wondering if an international think-tank being hosted by Toronto Police next year will tackle the touchy situation of police and their dealings with members of the Black community and other visible minorities.

Most of us have seen video of ongoing protests against police for the most recent shootings of Black men in the U.S.; including Terrence Crutcher, 40, in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Keith Scott, 43, in Charlotte, North Carolina.

In Toronto, we have had demonstrations for Black men who were shot and killed by police and there have been protests by Black Lives Matter-Toronto and other activists who are demanding a review of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which investigates police shootings.

The SIU is accused of being too pro-police, secretive and lacking transparency in its investigations.

So, it is only fitting that Toronto taxpayers be provided some answers to hard questions about the changing environment between police and the Black community since we are dishing out $200,000 to host “The Pearls in Policing Conference” in June 2017.

Funding for the all-police confab was sought and obtained at the last meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board. The Pearls forum provides up to 40 law enforcement executives, who include commissioners and chiefs, a chance to identify emerging challenges in policing and develop solutions to real issues facing policing today.

“These challenges are such that they can no longer be dealt with on a national level and their solutions require international input,” Chief Mark Saunders said in a proposal to the Board. “This will be the first time that the conference will be held in Canada.”

The event is based in the Netherlands and conferences are held in guest nations. Its executives had requested that Toronto Police host the summer conference, which will run from June 5 to 13. The theme will be “Fragile States, Fragile Communities”.

“Each year, based on the discussions and their assessment of the most important issue facing them collectively, delegates choose the main topic for discussion at the following year’s conference,” according to the proposal.

The event has always been informative and well-attended by Toronto Police executives. Former Chief Bill Blair attended two of the conferences and Chief Mark Saunders represented the force last year in Copenhagen. He will be in the forefront next year showing off our city to foreign cops.

“Toronto is a world-class city with international issues and concerns, and this is an opportunity to utilize the expertise of these leaders and academics to best develop the Toronto Police Service for the future,” the Chief wrote.

He said the force is interested in how other police agencies deal with people in crisis and suffering from mental illness.

“Police interaction with persons with a mental illness is a significant worldwide issue and I want to explore all aspects of how police provide service to this segment of society and develop best practice solutions,” Saunders said.

He said information from a previous conference helped police with the “timely intervention of a credible potential terrorist event in Southern Ontario”.

There wasn’t much in the Chief’s proposal about race relations and how the conference will address incidents of carding and racial profiling that occurs daily to Black people and other visible minorities worldwide.

“This conference is also an opportunity to showcase the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and the communities we serve, and how, working together, we are one of the safest cities in North America,” according to the Chief. “The TPS is a proud reflection of this incredibly diverse and culturally rich city.”

Chief Saunders is correct and his force is on the right track, but a lot more has to be done by his officers as to how they handle members of our marginalized communities.

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