Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 104, June 12, 2017.

June 12th 2017

1. Getting police out of schools
2. The Board refuses to debate marijuana
3. Pre-charge screening needed in Ontario

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 104, June 12, 2017.

This Bulletin is published by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition (TPAC), a group of individuals and organizations in Toronto interested in police policies and procedures, and in making police more accountable to the community they are committed to serving. Our website is http://www.tpac.ca
In this Bulletin:
1. Getting police out of schools
2. The Board refuses to debate marijuana
3. Pre-charge screening needed in Ontario
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin.
1. Getting police out of schools

On May 23 the Toronto Police Services Board almost decided to cancel the Schools Resource Officer program which has placed three dozen police officers in selected Toronto schools. The Board had listened to half a dozen deputants who asked the program to be ended when Chief Saunders raised the question as to whether the Board had the ability to tell him how he could deploy his officers.

The issue of what the Board can tell the chief to do is an old one, and was fully addressed by former judge John Morden reporting on the G20 police actions in 2010. Section 31 of The Police Services Act states The board may give orders and directions to the chief of police, but subsection 4 states The board shall not direct the chief of police with respect to specific operational decisions or with respect to the day-to-day operation of the police force.

One would think the word `specific and then `day-to-day operation makes it clear that the Board has a strong role to play in policy and resource allocation, but whenever it looks like the Board is going to ask for change, this old canard is thrown out by senior officers.

Then the chief said he was just about to do a study of the effectiveness of the SRO program. The Board decided to put the matter over to the June 15 meeting, when it will again be debated.

TPAC has been asking questions about the program, and asking that it be cancelled, ever since it was established in 2008. In the TPAC Bulletin No. 43, November 3, 2008, we noted: It happened almost overnight without much debate: the police force decided that armed officers would be placed in about 30 Toronto schools. Since one officer costs the public a bit over $100,000 a year, this is a very expensive strategy.

Unfortunately, the move was made without establishing any benchmarks for measuring whether this expenditure would be effective. Does success relate to less violence in schools, and if so how is that measured in different schools? Does it relate to feelings of security among teachers and students, and how would that be measured? We suspect that if offered $100,000 to deal with security and safety issues over the next year, few of those schools would have chosen to spend it on an officer with a gun.  

Then, in Bulletin No. 47, May 11, 2009 we summarized the limited evidence available, showing that SROs did not have a positive impact.
In Bulletin No. 49, October 7, 2009, we reported further than school board officials thought officers in schools didnt have much to do with safety, but were about improving the image of officers with school children. In Bulletin No. 50, December 7, 2009, we reported on the American evidence, showing that officers in schools were a problem, not a solution.

Since then we have raised the issue of SROs virtually every year when the annual operating budget for police services has been before the Board, asking that the program be ended since it has a cost of $2 million or more each year, with no measurable benefit for that expenditure of public tax dollars. The Board has never shown any inclination to review the program to see whether it is worthwhile.

There are three general points to make about the SRO program:
a) That SROs are not in all schools but only some select school implies certain areas need police supervision.
b) Some students feel intimidated by police officers in schools and have had negative interactions with them, including criminal records.
c) The presence of uniformed and armed officers changes the learning environment into an enforcement environment that may be counterproductive.

Black kids are suspended three times more often than white kids at all levels of public school. Legal Aid Ontario has just announced a $200,000 fund to assist black families with legal costs they incur when trying to fight these expulsions and suspensions ( see http://bit.ly/2shl9fQ. ) Police stationed in schools can only exacerbate this problem.

This has gone on for too long. Those citizens who have come forward are right: the SRO program should be cancelled forthwith on June 15.

2. The Board refuses to debate marijuana

There is a lively debate in the media about the need for the federal government to ensure that marijuana possession charges are expunged once the new legislation is passed next year. Many have argued that it makes no sense to charge people today with marijuana offences that will be legal within a year: those individuals, if convicted, would be burdened with criminal records which are known to be a substantial hardship on them. Further, these charges take up precious court time when courts are stretched to the limit, as can been seen in the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in the Jordan case, where cases which take too long to prosecute are thrown out.

So far the feds have not agreed to do anything.

TPAC wrote the Toronto Police Services Board and asked that the matter be addressed at its May 23 meeting. We suggested the simple remedy is for the police to exercise their discretion regarding some marijuana matters, particularly the possession of less than 30 grams of marijuana, and possession of up to four marijuana plants under a meter high. Police often wisely exercise their discretion not to press charges in other matters, and in these cases it would seem to be an appropriate response.

The number of people affected in Toronto is substantial. Police have not published crime data for the last five years, but our understanding is that about 5,000 individuals are charged with possession of marijuana a year in Toronto.

We asked the Board to request the Chief to report on this suggestion, or other methods that will help ensure those who would not be offending the legislation once it is in force will not be charged in the interim.

The Board chair, Andrew Pringle used his discretion to prevent the letter from being presented to the Board, so the debate has never happened at the Board.

The Medical Officer of Health in Toronto estimates almost 60,000 charges will be laid, resulting in 22,000 convictions for simple possession in Canada by time the marijuana is legalized. He thinks it should be decriminalized now. See https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2017/06/05/torontos-public-health-chief-wants-pot-possession-decriminalized-now.html . The Toronto Star and the Montreal Gazette have both run editorials urging the government to decriminalize immediately.

This is clearly an important public policing issue which has received a considerable amount of attention by the public. It is exactly the kind of issue the Board should be taking a leadership position on instead of refusing to even to discuss it. The public deserves a public forum on this issue and that forum is the Police Services Board.

3. Pre-charge screening needed in Ontario

Toronto Police Accountability Coalition was fortunate in receiving a small grant recently, which we used for research on pre-charge screening. Our colleague Chris Williams produced an excellent study which shows that in British Columbia, Quebec, and New Brunswick where crown prosecutors screen charges police wish to lay that:

1. The courts in pre-charge provinces have considerably lower caseloads, an average of 22 per cent lower than the other provinces. If Ontario used the pre-charge system established in Quebec, the case load in Ontario would have been 70,500 rather than 93,700.

2. Multi-charge cases  often a sign of over-charging - are much less frequent in pre-charge provinces. Ontario has 1.5 times as many multi-charge cases per capita as Quebec.

3. In pre-charge provinces many fewer cases are either stayed or withdrawn. The number stayed or withdrawn in Quebec is 9 per cent; in Ontario, 46 per cent.

Pre-charge screening leads to better use of precious court time, as well as the time and energy of those in the criminal justice system, and protects members of the public from charges deemed not supportable by the court.

The conclusions of the study have been endorsed by a number of prominent criminal lawyers, including Anthony Morgan, Selwyn Pieters, Peter Rosenthal, and Paul Copeland, as well as by Nigel Barriffe of the Urban Alliance for Race Relations and Tammy Landau, professor of Criminology at Ryerson University. The full study and the endorsements can be found at http://tpac.ca/show_issues.cfm?id=209 and http://tpac.ca/show_issues.cfm?id=210.

4. Subscribe to the Bulletin

To subscribe or unsubscribe to this Bulletin, please send a note to info@tpac.ca with the instructions in the subject line or in the text of the message. Our e-mail list is confidential and will not be made available to others. There is no charge for the Bulletin. Our website is http://www.tpac.ca.

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Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
E-mail: info@tpac.ca