Saunders at one year: a work in progress

Chief Mark Saunders
Chief Mark Saunders

One year ago at the announcement that Mark Saunders would be Toronto’s first Black police chief, Anthony Morgan, then with the African Canadian Legal Clinic, gently advised Saunders not to accept “collateral damage” in serving and protecting the community.

The charismatic new chief – an excellent listener – said he would take it under advisement or words to that effect at a meeting attended by The Camera.

Eventually, Saunders, who is of Jamaican heritage, was sworn in at a packed ceremony inside Toronto police headquarters with great anticipation and excitement.

But 12 months on, Saunders faces stiff challenges, especially if current trends persist.

Homicides in 2016 are double where they were this time last year, up from 15 to 30 and that could be a major challenge in the chief’s second year. Also, like an albatross around the chief’s neck is Black on Black gun violence.

A random sample of 804 Toronto voters conducted last week showed 48% of those polled approved of his performance, with four in 10 rating him as “excellent” or “good,” while the same number said he was “fair” or “poor.”

In 2015, it was said that Toronto’s top cop had a wide field of support, including from Toronto Police Association but not everyone is still singing from the same song sheet.

Today, Morgan has since moved on to working with community-rooted law firm Falconer LLP. He says that “Probably the greatest threat at this point to any interest that Chief Saunders has to increasing equitable, transparent and accountable policing in the baseless and often incendiary rhetoric of (police association president Mike) McCormack, who is acting as chief, in terms of who is having their say.”

Some naysayers – including some of former deputy chief Peter Sloly’s followers – are unhappy with Saunders performance, “grappling with trust issues a year into the job,” said Kenton Chance, president of the Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE). (Sloly, also Black, was passed over for the chief’s job and later resigned.)

“It’s really early to be critical of what Chief Saunders is doing. I think he’s working very, very hard. He’s trying to reach out to the community and trying his very best to keep the city safe,” Chance said.

For instance, Saunders was praised for taking the leadership and disagreeing with the police association as they attempted to link to carding the shooting of Rochelle Bobb who died but whose baby was delivered via emergency C-section.

Saunders calls himself focused on the importance of community building and says he refuses to use fear as a tactic. Instead, he says the city’s anger must translate in community members coming forward with information to help investigations.

One year later, despite all the early hope, his impact remains a work in progress.