Policing our chief concerns

By Michael Lashley

There was a time, not too long ago, when I overestimated the likely effectiveness of a series of well-documented policies and practices which have been recommended for our Toronto Police Service (TPS).

On the basis of my own research earlier this year and information publicly available, I am now satisfied that a few of the necessary policies and practices are going to be so painful, so long-term and so prone to being resisted that even the “best” police chief and the most efficient Police Services Board will find themselves continuously challenged.

However, I remain confident that the job of those two authorities can be done with more than reasonable success. It has to be done and we the residents have our role to play. Our civic duty is to contribute through responsible advocacy, demanding accountability and pro-active engagement in the various aspects of the process of policing and community safety.

I do not agree with the approach that there are only two key questions to be asked, namely, “What are the ideal profiles for those two levels of responsibility?” and “Who are the ideal candidates?”

Let me start off with one more equally pertinent question: How can those authorities ensure that the policies and practices which have been approved by the board are faithfully implemented?

According to a wide range of complaints, there have been too many instances in which decisions and instructions emanating from the competent authorities were not put into effect by the rank and file police officers and/or by the team of senior officers that manages the police service. Particularly noticeable among those instances are the failure to end the practice of carding/racial profiling and the failure to reduce or freeze overall expenditure.

There must be reasons for these specific cases of non-implementation. Without discounting the public assertions of persistent racism, one is tempted to speculate about the possible persistence (at what levels?) of habitual abuse of authority.

Such an ingrained attitude may even be compounded by an (individual?) insistence that “nobody can tell me how to do my job” when it comes to interacting with the public in a variety of situations. This latter aspect of the speculation is important enough to deserve internal and public attention from the Toronto Police Association that represents the uniformed and the civilian members of the TPS.

Having considered the views of fellow public policy specialists and the many opinions expressed by members of the public and the media, I am comfortable with most of the structural and policy changes that are being advanced to enhance the effective and cost-efficient delivery of police services in Toronto.

In particular, it makes good sense to develop a fully multi-level and multi-segment police service that includes: officers who perform core police functions and traffic management; specialist police who perform highly technical functions such as fighting cybercrime; specialist staff who perform other technical functions such as HR services, IT services and accounting services; and administrative and facilities management staff.

For reasons of accountability, efficient management and security of information and premises, all these categories of personnel must be full members of staff of the TPS, even as they have different terms and conditions of service resulting from the differing nature of their training requirements and duties. I therefore do not support the privatization or outsourcing of any of the services I mentioned above.

While I remain flexible as to whether or not the management of the city’s parking arrangements should remain a police function, I share the ethical and other concerns over the use of police to provide security services at construction sites, private functions and community events.

Complainants have advanced well-founded arguments against this practice: this work is not police work; it deprives the TPS of the use of its officers for police work; and the privately paid wages (reported as being more than four times the minimum wage) for this security work should be offered to private persons, not to police officers who are already well remunerated as public workers.

One last comment on the selection of a police chief: I understand the dilemma over whether to bring in an officer from outside the TPS with a new broom to sweep the service clean or whether to choose one of the existing TPS Officers whose broom knows all the corners where the dust can gather and has gathered. I prefer an insider who has the confidence of the rank and file officers and the trust of the public.

I agree that both of the two leading internal candidates are excellent police executives and am proud they are of Caribbean ancestry: Deputy Chief Peter Sloly and Deputy Chief Mark Saunders. Two Caribbean media persons recently recommended the TPS make its own Mark. I too am taking liberties. I recommend the TPS proceeds Sloly.

Michael Lashley
Michael Lashley