When will the Toronto police deliver on their new plan?

There are two reasons that will explain the delay in the delivery of the top quality, modernized policing being proposed for the benefit of the people of Toronto.

The first reason is implicit in the comprehensive nature of the Report and Plan of Action released and laid before the Board of the Toronto Public Service on January 26, 2017. It is self-evident that the implementation process will take at least a few years to be properly rolled out and to make its effects felt at the ground level throughout the city.

The Report is entitled “The Way Forward” and it focuses on the modernization of all aspects of the service. It was prepared by a Transformational Task Force, co-chaired by Andy Pringle, Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board and Mark Saunders, Chief of the Toronto Police Service.

The second reason raises a lot of more problematic issues. Such an ambitious Plan of Action will take at least one whole generation of change in the operational culture of the police service and in the thinking, values and attitudes of the leadership and the officers of the police service.

In the Report, it is proposed that the police service will provide community-focused policing that will be actively accountable and trusted, transparent and engaged, inclusive and collaborative, as well as sustainable and affordable.

How does that vision compare with the needs and desires of Toronto’s residents? Does it coincide with the Report’s own account of the requests received from the various communities which contributed their inputs?

According to the Report, the public made the following requests:

  • “a trusted relationship with the police service, with culture change as a key component of building that relationship.
  • improved police accountability and zero tolerance for bias, racism and discrimination.
  • a neighbourhood-focused police service that deploys resources as efficiently and effectively as possible.
  • existing youth programs to be maintained and expanded.
  • a more effective approach to dealing with mental health issues by society as a whole”.

The first two of those requests have been difficult to satisfy. In the last five or ten years, those two issues have seriously eroded the quality of the relationship between the police and the public. Distrust of the police and constant accusations of racial profiling. by the police have now resulted in an open divide.

In particular, the Black community and other ethnic groups are going to need a lot of meaningful new experiences before they can begin to believe that police officers are on their side.

The most painful experiences in that regard have been prominently featured in the media in recent years.

One wonders, for example, why the Police Service and the Police Service Board have continued to resist the Black community’s demands for the complete elimination of carding, the random street checks in which personal data is collected, stored and used in the prevention and prosecution of crime. One can only hope that the provincial law now in place will reduce that resistance to such an important aspect of positive change.

On the more positive side, there are some significant areas in the Report in which transformational change will bring much needed improvements in the delivery of police services: the introduction of modern systems for technology and information management, administrative processes and operational structures, and neighbourhood-centered policing.

Another welcome item mentioned in the Report is the intention spelt out under the heading “Fewer paid duty assignments”. The public has never been comfortable with the widespread practice of using police officers for lucratively paid, external “duties” that fatten the earnings of persons who are already well remunerated from the public purse for full-time employment.

In the final analysis, public perception, public buy-in, and sensitivity to the feelings and sore spots in public opinion will be the most decisive factors in the success of the Plan of Action in this most recent Report on “the Way Forward”.

This is the cornerstone of the cultural change in its thinking, attitude and behavior that the Police Service so badly needs.

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that a cultural change is also required in the broader criminal justice system of which policing is only one part.

It is therefore appropriate to consider the words of caution of Mr. Kenneth Jeffers, the only Black member of the Police Service Board:

“So when you have a criminal justice system not sufficiently acknowledged (in the Report), people concerned about systemic and anti-black racism want to know why. They want to know why the role of the Human Rights Commission and the Human Rights Tribunal was not discussed in the Report. Some people are confused about this.”