How do we transform the Toronto Police Service?

Social Justice 3 min read , September 30, 2020

Guest Post

Re: June 28, 2020 event: How do we demilitarize the police to have more justice?

In late June, a dear friend of mine invited me to an online ‘kitchen table’ conversation (here) about how to de-militarize the police and have more justice on systemic racism and policing. After the conversation, I had feelings of resignation, perplexity, and a real commitment to learning about policing in Toronto.  This led to a recent conversation I had with a retired police officer.

I recently had the opportunity to speak to Jim (not his real name) who is a former black police officer and retired with the Toronto Police Service after 31 years.

“Police officers straddle the fine line between law and order and humanity.... they are not separate (entities).  They have to co-exist.”

Powerful words to live by in theory.  Jim, who joined the service in 1987, recalled several instances where sergeants and fellow officers would openly use the “n” word around him.  He said one day his colleague said to him jokingly,

“When is a n**ger not a n**ger?  The answer is, “when he leaves the room.”

As a black officer, he was always ‘on guard’ – even though the mantra for belonging to this fraternity of being a cop is “you are one of us now, you are blue.”  It has always been us vs them.  As long as he donned that uniform, he was safe in blue.  Once he removed that uniform, he became a “them...” just another black man profiled while driving - waiting to be stopped, or maybe worse.

Jim says there has been a dramatic shift from his early days to where things are now.  There is sensitivity training and cultural diversity training. While well and good, systemic racism continues.

“One thing I can say is, the police are open to the conversation with the public… especially on racism and policing.”

The one question I wanted to ask him is why is a police officer rarely convicted after they are charged? Jim gave several reasons.

“Nepotism is rampant.  It is about protecting your own.  The people who are doing the investigating are typically former police officers, sometimes how the media reports the crime gets skewed.  The SIU (Special Investigations Unit) should be the ones investigating the police.”

On July 16 the Toronto Police Service hosted its 4th virtual town hall meeting on police reform.  This is a positive first step in the right direction, but where is the Toronto police really heading? Chief Mark Saunders is retiring at the end of July.  With talk to defund the police off the table, how will the system transform? Will the new police chief address this unraveling of the system or will he or she forget what’s happened since the George Floyd murder and continue with business as usual?

I visited the Toronto Police Service website to view a snapshot of the 2020 Budget Request.  This includes a request to add 40 neighbourhood officers, 140 Priority Response Officers, body-worn cameras, 8 traffic officers, and 5 new Equity Inclusion and Human Rights positions.   As a side note, 89% of the 2020 budget is salary-related.

One thing I want to see is a special task force (Priority Response Officers) who are trained to deal with wellness checks and citizens with mental illness, (re)build trust in lower-income and racialized communities, and higher screening and ongoing screening/psychological testing of police officers.

It’s time to hold police officers accountable. They need to practice law and order with humanity.

Photo credit: Fair Use Creative Commons here.

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equality justice law and order policing