1. New police leadership comes only from within
Bill Blair has been appointed as the new Police Chief for Toronto. While reports are that the vote was not unanimous (that the vote was 4-2 with the objecting members preferring Mike Boyd as Chief) it is clear that Boyd's appointment is supported by all six members of the Toronto Police Service Board.
It is a tradition in Toronto that the chief be appointed from within the Toronto force. That tradition is not shared in Western Canada where the general requirement is that a candidate for chief must demonstrate experience with at least one other force. Blair appears to have strong management skills - he successfully stabilized Division 51 after Craig Bromell and his colleagues staged a wild cat strike there a decade ago. He was one of the first Toronto officers to take a course in criminology, and he completed the four week senior management course entitled Police Leadership Program, offered at the Rotman Business School, University of Toronto.
Announcements have also been made of the appointment of three interim deputy chiefs: Jane Dick, Kim Derry, and Gary Grant. All have most recently served as staff superintendents, all working out of police headquarters, The obvious question is why no attempt was made to tap into fresh talent and experience from outside the Toronto force.
Just when it looked as though things were about to change, it now seems as though Toronto has refused to seize the opportunity to create a new culture of policing, and that it can't see beyond its own small world. One can only look with dismay on all these internal appointments. They make the likelihood of real change even more elusive.
2. Settling legal claims for a pretty penny
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has done excellent research in revealing that between 1998 and 2004 Toronto police paid out approximately $30 million to settle law suits and legal claims. Some have argued that for a police force that spends more than $600 million a year, it is not out of line to use up about 1% of the budget annually on such matters. Others aren't quite so sure.
Some say this is a very large amount to pay for police misconduct in a force which rarely admits to such deviance, although it's unclear exactly how much of this sum relates to police misconduct. Some suggest that some claims against the police have no merit and that settlement of these claims is made to avoid even larger costs. The larger question is the simple one of transparency: the public has a right to know how this money is spent, even if the public is not entitled to every detail of every particular case.
Mayor David Miller raised this matter with the Board on April 7, writing: "I am concerned that the size of this figure indicates that there is not sufficient control regarding cost of litigation and settlements& I would request that you jointly [with city legal staff] conduct a review to determine whether there are underlying policy issues that need to be addressed, whether the tariff in place for solicitors is appropriate and any related issues to determine how these expenses can be controlled." The board agreed to ask for the requested reports.
3. The tragic fate of suffering a mental crisis in public
The treatment by police of those undergoing mental crisis has been a continuing issue for a number of years. Toronto Police Accountability Coalition has taken the position that de-escalation is a policy which should be put in play. As reported in Bulletin 18, Toronto police have a good but limited Crisis Intervention team to deal with these incidents, although instead of strengthening that team the police recently decided to spend our money on tasers.
But the wrong-headedness of the current approach continues. In late March a Coroner's jury made its recommendations into the death of Nicholas Blentzas, which occurred in June 2002. Mr Blentzas was suffering a mental crisis, and was discovered by police in an apartment corridor. He was repeatedly pepper sprayed by police, and subsequently died. The cause of death was determined to be "Excited Delirium/Restraint Asphyxia associated with an underlying psychiatric illness."
The Coroner's jury recommended enhanced police training in excited delirium and in the risks involved using physical restraint, stating "this inquiry overwhelmingly supports the need for continuing training and awareness for front line police services .. on the medical condition known as 'excited delirium.'" These are very similar recommendations to those made by other coroner's juries in similar circumstances. Once again, the police chief has been asked to report.
Then, in mid-April, a man in crisis was seen to be shouting at streetcars on Queen Street outside St. Michael's Hospital in the early hours of the morning. The Crisis Intervention team, which is based at St, Mike's is not on duty after 11 pm. Police intervened, the man was subdued, and he died later in hospital. The Special Investigation Unit has been called in, but has yet to make its report. It's fair to assume that when the Coroner's jury investigates this death it will come up with recommendations that read much the same as in the case of Mr. Blentzas.
Those suffering from psychological crisis deserve better. The police refusal to adopt policies which better respect these members of society is unacceptable.
4. LeSage report on police complaints
Former Judge Patrick LeSage filed his report on police complaints with the Attorney General of Ontario on April 22. The government made the report public on April 25 and has indicated it will review the recommendations with a view to introducing legislation later this year.
LeSage has recommended that an independent civilian body be established to be responsible for the police complaints system in Ontario. This central Ontario office will have regional administrators - he recommends five different regions: northwest, northeast, southwest, southeast, and the Greater Toronto Area - and regional advisory bodies consisting of community and police representatives appointed by the government.
This new body would have a number of responsibilities: educate the public about the complaints system; receive complaints; ensure appropriate access to the system for everyone in the province; assist complainants in filing complaints; process the complaints, including screening out those which appear to have no merit and redirecting those that should be in another forum.
He recommends that complaints can be filed by anyone including friends and third parties (the current system only accepts complaints from the aggrieved person) and they can deal with policy issues as well as individual conduct. Except in exceptional circumstances complaints must be filed within six months of the time they occurred. Complaints that deal with policy issues will be directed to the local police service board and the chief must file a report available to the complainant. The processing of the complaints must be done in a transparent manner so the complainant will understand exactly how the complaint was handled. LeSage recommends that any police officer who harasses or intimidates a complainant will be deemed to have engaged in misconduct and will be appropriately charged.
A strong emphasis is put on the informal resolution of complaints by mediation, providing the parties agree.
Where informal resolution is not proceeded with, the complaint will be investigated under the auspices of the complaints body. In some cases the investigation will be done by the police, in other cases by the investigators who work for the independent civilian body.
Hearings should be conducted before independent, trained adjudicators, and the hearings will be public.
Decisions regarding penalties emerging from either informal resolution or hearing will be decided by the chief of police. Officers may not attempt to escape the penalty by finding employment with another police force - LeSage recommends the penalty follow the officer. Officers who are dismissed or resign as a result of a complaint should be prohibited from working for another police force for "a significant period".
Appeals from decisions, whether informal or formal, will continue to go to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (OCCOPS) and from there to the Divisional Court.
Police boards will be required to order independent audits of the way they handle complaints every two years and those audits will be public.
Police forces must play their own role in educating the public about the complaints system and each police service will be required to designate a senior officer to act as a liaison to the independent body. To ensure that police can be easily identified for purpose of complaints, officers will be required in Ontario to be identified "by way of a significantly large name patch on their uniforms".
A full copy of the report can be found on the website of the Attorney General at http://www.attorneygenral.jus.gov.on.ca . Whatever one thinks of Mr. LeSage's recommendations, the real question will be the nature of the legislation that is finally introduced by the Government of Ontario.
Several concerns have been expressed regarding the LeSage recommendations.
Some worry that many investigations will remain in the hands of the police. Given the nature of how the police have investigated their own in the past, it is argued that all investigations should be done by independent individuals. LeSage seems to take the position that investigations by police will be fair if done under the auspices of the independent body, particularly if the independent body has investigators of its own which might intervene. This is one example of LeSages attempt to try and create a sense of responsibility among the police for attending to their own misdemeanours, but some question whether this attempt is well placed.
Others have noted there are points of detail that are critical if the system is to work well. How can one ensure the high quality of representatives to the advisory groups? Or that they are accountable? Many feel that police service boards are not accountable and do not do a good job of governing or making policy. Why will these advisory groups be any different?
A third concern is that standards of proof for findings are unclear and are not recommended. Police want a high standard of proof, such as `beyond a reasonable doubt' as required in criminal trials; but others have suggested that `a balance of probabilities' may be more reasonable. A fourth concern is that funding might not be adequate to make a creditable independent body function well.
The LeSage recommendations are nuanced, and constitute a package of proposals which fit together. They are worth studying carefully. TPAC will read the report with care and put together a comprehensive report and response to the LeSage recommendations within the next month.
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