Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 127, January 27, 2021.

January 27th 2021

In this issue:
1. Rethinking Community Safety
2. The Police go the social work route
3. Police budget 2021

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 127, January 27, 2021.
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. Rethinking Community Safety
2. The Police go the social work route
3. Police budget 2021
4. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Rethinking Community Safety

Toronto Neighbourhood Centres, a group of about a dozen centres, supported by many Toronto agencies, has published an excellent guide to opportunities for defunding police in Toronto, `Rethinking Community Safety’. https://neighbourhoodcentres.ca/sites/default/files/2021-01/Rethinking%20Community%20Safety%20-%20A%20Step%20Forward%20For%20Toronto%20-%20Full%20Report.pdf

The report looks at a number of areas where it makes much better sense to have community agencies respond to problems than the police – better outcomes for much less public money.

Mental health crisis calls: Toronto police respond to 30,000 such calls a year, those calls representing 40 per cent of taser use. Community based response would free up $150 million, from police spending far more than new and expanded programs would cost.

Homelessness calls represent 360,000 interactions with police a year, and 10 per cent of all police contacts. Police issue 16,000 tickets a year to the homeless, 90 per cent of which are never paid for an obvious reason (no money), but end up being a criminal offence often resulting in jail. The cost to Toronto police for this work is estimated at $100 million a year, money far better spent solving problems of homelessness.
Youth calls: one third of police contacts are with youth, aged 16 – 24, and the arrest rates are substantial, as are the rates of police violence even though youth represent just 13 per cent of Criminal Code violations. The negative impact of this over-policing on youth is substantial. Better that the $65 million cost to police a year be put into community programs for youth.

Gender-based violence calls. Toronto police deal with 20,300 domestic calls a year, 2 per cent of total calls, with a cost of $65 million a year (some $545 million across Canada a year). Pro-arrest policies often penalize survivors, and deter reporting to police; police-led community co-ordinated response often sidelines victim advocates, and emphasizes the criminal justice system. Better to put that money into community based responses.

911 calls. Most calls to 911 are not about crime. It would be better to have the 911 call centre run by community agencies rather than police.

2. Police go the social work route

If your letter carrier began offering you advice about your person problems, you would be somewhat surprised. What does the mail person know about social programs? But if you learned that the letter carrier was acting under instruction of Canada Post, you would be astonished. It would be a clear example of a government agency which doesn’t quite understand its role.

Yet this is exactly the model the Toronto police have appeared to have adopted. Since July the police have been operating a Public Safety Response Team – PSRT. As reported by the Toronto Star, when an officer called on someone to check up on whether bail terms were being honored, the officer asked if the man was interested in further education or perhaps job counselling. https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2021/01/18/toronto-police-have-a-new-anti-gang-initiative-one-goal-dont-alienate-the-communities-you-police.html

Chief James Ramer told the Police Services Board on January 13: “We’ve changed the mandate of our Public Safety Response Team, so they’re much more engaged in proactively doing bail compliance checks and getting more arrests from people who are breaching their conditions,”

The cost of PSRT, which is co-ordinated with the Integrated Gang Prevention Task Force, is $11.48 million for 79 uniformed officers in the 2021 budget.

PSRT officers offer referrals to family members as well as to accused offenders. In the last six months, the police have dealt with 465 referrals that they make to various programs.

Louis March, director of Zero Gun Violence Movement, is quoted by the Star: “The thing is the police is the police, it’s about enforcement of law. It’s not about being community service agents, they’re not trained to do that. Just their presentation, in uniform, does not allow them to do this work with any true results because people are reluctant to engage them.”

While this program was announced at the January 13 Board meeting dealing with the budget, the PSRT is not mentioned in the 34 page budget document, so the public has not had the opportunity of knowing about or commenting on the program. It was introduced without notice in July, and then confirmed by the Board in January without the public being informed. The Board – and the chief – obviously think they can spend almost $29 million of public money without giving the public a chance to know about it.

Why do the police think they can be better social workers than social workers? Why is the police force spending this money when social programs are being cut back? Why is Mayor Tory agreeing to this?

3. Police Budget 2021

The police budget proposes a net spending of just over $1 billion, no change from 2020. It is presented as business as normal. The new shift schedule has clearly produced enough savings that the 2021 budget is no larger than 2020, while still accommodating expansions to the Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams, the neighbourhood officer program, and the Guns and Gangs unit. Not noted in the chief’s report is an increase of 105 staff in Detective Operations, nor the PSRT expenditure.

But this is not the year for `business as usual’. After the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the deaths of Regis Korchinski Paquet, Ejaz Choudry, D’Andre Campbell, and too many others in Ontario, the pressure for meaningful change has increased significantly. There is a public focus on policing that we have not seen for many decades.

Yet the budget does not recognize or respond to these demands for changes in policing in Toronto. City Council indicated in June that it wishes the response to those in mental health crisis to be run by a civilian agency, not by police, but there is no hint of this in the budget. Instead, the budget proposes to increase police response to those in mental crisis.

Presentations were made to the Board by TPAC and Toronto Neighbourhood Centres on `Rethinking Community Safety,’ but the Board decided to disregard these ideas instead of recognizing that the ideas in this report could well be implemented by redirecting funds from the police in this budget cycle.

There is nothing in the budget to ensure that systemic racism is addressed. The Ontario Human Rights Commission has recommended that new disciplinary provision with more transparency and independence be established to help deal with systemic racism. This will incur some expense – several hundred thousand dollars – but the budget makes no provision for this.

Nor does the budget deal with establishing pre-charge screening, a strong device for dealing with charges that result from systemic racism, as recommended by the OHRC. Pre-charge screening will also result in substantial savings in police time not required to attend trials that do not proceed. In both British Columbia and Quebec, it is not the police who lay charges, but rather the crown attorney. Police must go to the crown to ask that charges be laid, and this means there’s a vetting of the charges police wish to lay.

Pre-charge screening is very effective in ensuring that spurious charges are not laid by police. In Quebec less than 10 per cent of charges laid are withdrawn or dismissed by the courts; in British Columbia, 20 per cent; in Ontario, 46 per cent. Pre-charge screening in Ontario would mean that about half the charges now laid by police would not happen, saving a great deal of time an energy of the police, the criminal justice system, and members of the public.

The province may not pass legislation to put pre-charge screening in place but the Board could retain independent lawyers or retired judges to provide these services, ensuring that officers needed their consent to lay charges.

The budget should make reference to these two proposals by the Ontario Human Rights Commission – improvements to discipline and pre-charge screening – and include funds to implement them, while reflecting the savings that will result.

Further, the budget makes no attempt to reduce the requirement of two officers in a car after dark. The collective agreement permits the police service to abandon this rule which will save substantial sums - $30 or $40 million a year – while not reducing service to the public. Not proceeding to reduce two officers in a car after dark is another missed opportunity.

In short, the Board and the police service think it is still business as usual for the police.

4. Subscribe to the Bulletin

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