If Mark Saunders wants to be mayor, he must stop being a police officer



“This election is a choice between crime and chaos versus law and order…I’ve never seen things this bad.” That was Mark Saunders, former Toronto police chief (2015-2020), now the city’s mayoral candidate in the upcoming June 26th by-election.

There is a large constituency of Torontonians and an even larger number of residents of comparable cities who would agree with this assessment and vote accordingly.

Citing an increase in crime rates, many city politicians have argued for an expansion of police forces and year over year police budget increases. The sudden outburst of violent attacks on the TTC, which abated as quickly as the onset, increased commuter fear, thereby creating the conditions on which Saunders could base his law and order campaign.

The pro-policing constituencies pay particular attention to the rates of violent crimes to reinforce their point. However, the violent crime statistics include homicide, sexual assaults, and hate crimes. And they argue that the rate can be reduced by a larger police presence on the streets.

According to a 2021 Statistics Canada finding, Canada experienced a five percent increase in the rate of violent crimes; but this was driven largely by an 18 per cent increase in the rate of sexual assault cases reported to police and a 27 per cent increase in the number of hate crimes, plus a three per cent increase in the homicide rate.

But none of these figures can be reasonable used as an argument for a more robust police response. The homicide rate accounted for less than 0.2 per cent of all police-reported violent crimes in 2021. “The majority of homicides result from domestic violence committed by either family members or acquaintances. Very few were committed by someone with whom they had a criminal relationship.” Generally, sexual assaults are not committed in broad daylight but are mostly done indoors by someone with whom the victim is acquainted. Most hate crimes, like sexual assaults, are also committed on the quiet and only become known when they are reported by the victim(s).

In every case, the rates of these crimes cannot be reduced by an increased police presence because they are never committed in places where police are likely to be. And most of them do not “exist” for police until they are reported by the victim or a witness to the crime.

This is the case in cities from Vancouver to New York to Chicago, and many other North American cities.  In every case, the available evidence shows that an increased police presence is basically powerless to reduce community violence. It is true that police presence often acts as a deterrent to street based violence, but it is less true in cities with large Black and minority populations. The facts are that these populations experience an increased level of victimization by the police.

Similar studies have all agreed that, apart from being caught red-handed committing a crime, these populations are often stopped for spurious reasons like making furtive movements, for “objects carried in plain view, evasive actions, suspicious bulges, or crucially, someone ‘fitting the description.’ The phrase ‘fits the description’ has become shorthand for racial profiling because of the frequency with which it is used by police officers as an excuse to stop Black men in particular.” 

A deeper delve into the Statistics Canada and other similar reports all say the same – policing has its place in dealing with these types of crimes but are only effective if cities invest in people rather than more police.

Mark Saunders, the politician, may be “smart” in appealing to the emotions of voters who are rightfully appalled by the sudden burst of violence on our public transit system. But the former police chief is dead wrong in playing with people’s emotions in the face of crime statistics that demand a more rational approach to the problem.

Mr. Saunders and the law and order contingent should have listened to the protestors who were and are quite correct when they said that cities should invest in people rather than police.