Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 121, June 8, 2020.

June 8th 2020

1. Defunding police
2. The false hope of body cameras
3. Rethinking special constables
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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 issue:
1. Defunding police
2. The false hope of body cameras
3. Rethinking special constables
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Defunding police

The murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers has led to massive protests in many American and Canadian cities, and it has also provoked a wide-spread debate about the practice and role of policing. The debate has been intensified in Canada by the deaths of a Black-Indigenous woman in Toronto, the injury of an Indigenous individual in Kinngait, Nunavut and the death of a woman in Edmondston, New Brunswick, after interactions with police.

Some of the debate bears real promise of change. One significant idea is that money should be reallocated from police – police should be `defunded’. The idea was best addressed in a New York Times opinion piece, published at the end of May,

Here’s a quote from that article:
“Municipalities can begin by changing policies or statutes so police officers never respond to certain kinds of emergencies, including ones that involve substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness or mental health. Instead, health care workers or emergency response teams would handle these incidents. So if someone calls 911 to report a drug overdose, health care teams rush to the scene; the police wouldn’t get involved. If a person calls 911 to complain about people who are homeless, rapid response social workers would provide them with housing support and other resources. Conflict interrupters and restorative justice teams could mediate situations where no one’s safety is being threatened. Community organizers, rather than police officers, would help manage responses to the pandemic. Ideally, people would have the option to call a different number — say 727 — to access various trained response teams.”

The article then mentioned examples of this happening, albeit on a small scale, in various American cities. Some programs work with police, some are independent.

The article continues:
“Here’s another idea: Imagine if the money used to pay the salaries of police officers who endlessly patrol public housing buildings and harass residents can be used to fund plans that residents design to keep themselves safe. The money could also pay the salaries of maintenance and custodial workers; fund community programs, employment and a universal basic income; or pay for upgrades to elevators and apartment units so residents are not stuck without gas during a pandemic, as some people in Brooklyn were. The Movement for Black Lives and other social movements call for this kind of redirection of funds.

“We need to reimagine public safety in ways that shrink and eventually abolish police and prisons while prioritizing education, housing, economic security, mental health and alternatives to conflict and violence. People often question the practicality of any emergency response that excludes the police. We live in a violent society, but the police rarely guarantee safety. Now more than ever is the time to divest not only from police resources, but also the idea that the police keep us safe.”

TPAC has long advocated that calls involving someone in crisis should be responded to with Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams consisting of a plain clothed officer and a mental health nurse. It is now clear that this is only a half-way step. It makes more sense to ask an organization such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – CAMH – to work with affected communities and advocates to set up emergency response teams, using funds now allocated to the police for this purpose. Police have indicated they are not happy responding to these calls, which are increasing in numbers, and having unarmed responders independent of police culture will result in much better outcomes for those in crisis. This change would also result in lower costs to the public given the rates of compensation now provided police officers.

Restructuring other elements of work now done by police should also be looked at closely. The societal benefits appear to be significant. We note this idea is not entirely new. TPAC advocated to remove police from trying to police the transit system in Toronto – that has been accomplished – and out of schools, which is in process. Lifeguarding on Toronto Beaches has been removed as a police function, as have school crossing guards. We need to implement some of the other ideas in that New York Times article.

What the debate has touched on, but has not been able to address, is the difficult question of police culture. Police culture consists of a number of different characteristics: that officers support each other when they should be intervening to stop inappropriate action; that there is a high amount of violence involved in operations; that discrimination on the basis of race, culture, gender and disability is a serious problem; that other social organizations find it difficult to work co-operatively and on an equal footing with police; that police manage to frighten political leaders from talking about and reforming policing issues.

A significant problem is that the police culture moves beyond the front lines of policing and is not countered by management: there is a systemic blindness of those in more senior command positions about the conduct of officers and an unwillingness, including among oversight bodies such as the Special Investigations Unit, to identify, challenge and rectify accountability. This culture needs serious change.

Some of the needed change can come from within the police service, and some will have to come from other places. There are three changes that can come from within the police service: hiring managers from outside the police service; replacing the practice of every new recruit starting from the bottom and working up the organization to instead hiring by job description; and training new staff at existing colleges and universities rather than the isolated facility at Aylmer and the Toronto Police College. These will not be accomplished easily.

Can our political leaders be convinced that they can tackle police spending, police power and police culture? To date most political leaders have been timid to address these issues for fear of being criticized by police as being `soft on crime.’ For the last 15 years TPAC has produced briefs criticizing police budget information and proposing ways for police to spend less money (these briefs are reflected in many Bulletins), but those briefs have been consistently rejected by the Toronto Police Services Board and by City Council. Perhaps the murder of George Floyd has provided our political leaders with some political backbone.

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam notes on her web site, “As a part of our planning and recovery from the pandemic, Toronto City Council will be undergoing a full review of its operating expenses, including our largest budget item - the Toronto Police Service. I fully support the call for a comprehensive review of the Police budget. It is important to invest limited funds into other priority areas such as housing, youth and recreation programming and employment services - key services that are critical for sustaining healthy and safe communities for all.”

If public pressure continues, it may come to pass.

2. The false promise of body cameras

Regis Korchinsk-Paquet, a young Black-Indigenous woman, died in Toronto whenshe fell from a 24 storey apartment balcony when police arrived after her family had called police to take her to a mental health hospital. What actually happened in the apartment is still being investigated.

Police Chief Mark Saunders has responded saying he hopes officers will have body cameras by this fall. “The body-worn camera is not the end-all but what it is is an added tool that can give an objective account of what occurred during those moments,” he said. Mayor John Tory has agreed with the chief. As well, many people are signing a petition to support body cameras.

We have reported in previous Bulletins (see Bulletin No. 120, for example) on the study done by Toronto police in 2016 showing that body cameras are very expensive and do not accomplish much. Now there is an independent study in real life which shows that is the case. It was published in May in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in USA in a paper edited by a professor at Harvard University.

It was a large-scale field experiment involving 2,224 officers of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC. Officers were randomly assigned cameras (or not) and subsequent police behavior was tracked for a minimum of 7 months. “Our results indicate that cameras did not meaningfully affect police behavior on a range of outcomes, including complaints and use of force. We show that Body Worn Cameras have very small and statistically insignificant effects on police use of force and civilian complaints, as well as other policing activities and judicial outcomes. These results suggest we should recalibrate our expectations of Body Worn Cameras’ ability to induce large-scale behavioral changes in policing, particularly in contexts similar to Washington, DC.” See https://www.pnas.org/content/116/21/10329.
Body worn cameras are one good place where police should be defunded. Body worn cameras are undesirable because they increase police spending without producing the results they promise. Tens of millions of dollars could be redirected in Toronto to better programs if the decision was made not to proceed with these cameras.

3. Rethinking special constables

At the May 21 meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, a report was filed authorizing the application of Ryerson University to retain 24 special constables. An agreement with the Board was required to ensure compliance with the Police Services Act. Training of the constables would take place at the Toronto Police College.

The report noted: “Ryerson is requesting their special constables be authorized to carry OC spray, an expandable baton, handcuffs, Naloxone; and wear ballistic protection vests. Ryerson has suggested a uniform of blue shirts and pants that comply with the Ministry’s ‘Special Constable Practitioners Handbook’ and will not resemble the TPS uniform. It would be requested that the ballistic protection vest display the words “special constable” on the front and back and that it be specifically noted in the Agreement that the special constables shall be in uniform when acting as a special constable and or exercising their authorities as special constable.”

The report concluded: “The special constables would expand the reach of the Toronto Police Service to be where the community needs us the most.”
Representatives from the Ryerson community, namely Black Liberation Collective Ryerson and the Ryerson chapter of Canadian Students For Sensible Drug Policy, spoke against the special constable program and noted the Toronto Police Service’s failure to adequately consult the Ryerson community.

Two weeks later, Mohamed Lachemi, President and Vice-Chancellor of Ryerson issued the following statement:

“We have heard your concerns about bringing a special constable program to campus and I want to assure you that the university is listening.

“We have decided not to proceed with the special constables program. We are committed to a uniquely Ryerson approach to safety and well-being on campus and to moving forward in a transparent, consultative, and inclusive way.

“Ryerson will be convening a working group to hold further consultations with students, faculty, and staff to discuss how we can develop a safety and security model that works for the Ryerson community. The working group, which will include representation from different stakeholders on our campus, will report back to senior leadership with their recommendations.

“We will be providing further details to our community on this shortly.”
Ryerson seems to have read the public mood well, that police are not always the best way to deal with issues of security: better alternatives exist. Perhaps the same is true for the special constables employed by the University of Toronto and the Toronto Community Housing Corporation.

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