Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 15

December 1st 2004

1. Prospects for the new Toronto Police Services Board
2. TASERS on hold
3. A new commitment to community policing?
4. Policing priorities in Toronto
5. 2005 police budget
6. Welcome new appointment to OCCOPS
7. Most recent police statistics
8. Subscribe to the Bulletin

1. Prospects for the new Toronto Police Services Board

With the appointment by the Province of Hamlin Grange, the Toronto Police Services Board can now be considered a reasonable oversight body, some might even say progressive. Grange was a reporter with CBC in Toronto before he began his business advising clients on good ways to create diversity in their work force and in their policies. When Chief Fantino and the Board were under pressure following the Toronto Star's October 2002 articles concluding that racial profiling was, according to all the data, a common practice within the Toronto police force, they turned to Grange to run a session as to what they should do. He produced a useful report in the circumstances, which the Board decided not to implement.

But now Grange takes his place on the Board - actually, he'll take it in January - with the city's recent appointee Alok Muhkerjee, joining Councillors Pam McConnell and John Filion - four of the six Board members. (We still await one further appointment by the province.) This is a great time for change in policing in Toronto. The Board is ready for change. Former Judge Patrick Lesage is about to report to the provincial government on a new police complaints system. Steps are under way to hire a new chief for Toronto. Even the Toronto Police Association has elected leadership which seems less combatitive.

The great concern is how rank and file police officers will react to these opportunities for change. Judging from the past, there are always some officers who want to quash voices of reason and conciliation, and they often try to organize themselves to do so. The most recent examples of this tendency were the allegations levelled by police against Alan Heisey, the former Chair of the Board, and the alleged attempts by the police to smear John Filion regarding his personal life. Unfortunately, there are many instances in the past where officers have taken unusual action to attack anyone who attempts to make them more accountable or more responsive to the community at large.

Yet another instance of this occurred in Edmonton in mid-November. Several Edmonton officers decided to conduct a sting operation against Martin Ignasiak, Chair of the Police Commission - the Edmonton Police Association had asked for his resignation in September - and against Kerry Diotte, a reporter from the Edmonton Sun who had been critical of the police. It was known these two individuals were attending an event sponsored by the Canadian Association of Journalists at a local sports bar. Police staked out the bar in the hope these men would have something to drink and then drive home, at which point they would be arrested for drunk driving. Both Ignasiak and Diotte left the bar in cabs. Neither was intoxicated.

As it turned out, another journalist was listening to a scanner tuned to the police frequency and heard the police mention the targets by name. Others in the bar identified the police officers present. Three days later, the police issued a press release stating they were undertaking an investigation because they received a complaint that a drunk was about to leave the bar and get into a car.

Edmonton Police Chief Fred Rayner has launched an investigation into the allegations, and it is yet to be completed. Whatever the outcome, the lesson is clear: if you criticise police you are liable to attacked by them.

The question in Toronto is what kinds of tactics rogue officers might decide to use against the new majority on the Police Services Board and when this might happen. It would be pleasant but very unusual if these four individuals were not put under personal surveillance by police. It would be pleasant and unusual if they all lived exemplary lives, or if they didn't do something which could be twisted and publicized as contrary to what police see as their interests. The best defence to this occurring is to recognize that this is a traditional tactic used by police in times of change. Police officers have access to extraordinary resources, and some appear to be without scruples - a mixture which is a recipe for disaster to police reformers. It is yet another reason why very significant changes must be made to the way policing is undertaken in Toronto and other large cities in Canada.

2. TASERS on hold

At the November 18 meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board, Chief Fantino asked for approval to purchase 500 TASERS for use by supervisory officers. Currently, the force has a few TASERS, all in the control of the Emergency Response Unit. The TASER fires two barbed probes attached to the gun by 21 foot long wires, and on contact a high voltage low ampherage electrical charge disables the victim briefly, allowing the police to seize the person. The police and TASERS' manufacturer claim there are no lasting impacts of this massive shock to the nervous system.

The police argued strongly that the use of TASERS would result in fewer shootings by officers, fewer and less severe injuries to subjects and officers, reduced public complaints, reduced civilian liability claims, improved officer morale, and an improved image for the police. A lengthy presentation to the Board showed several news clippings of individuals being disempowered by TASERS. Police proposed a demonstration on Deputy Chief Steve Reesor, but the Board objected, with Councillor John Filion remarking that the TASERS shouldn't be treated as a play thing. Several citizen objections were voiced to making TASERS generally available to police at a moments notice anywhere in the city. The American Civilian Liberties Union believes TASERS may be lethal and it cites evidence where death has occurred after their use. Others suggested that police would be better to use de-escalation tactics rather than TASERS.

A majority of the Board asked, in retrospect, what seems like the most obvious of questions, namely: Is there independent evidence about the impact of TASERS? It seems that most of the studies on the low impact of TASERS were undertaken by the manufacturer, and with that lack of good data, the Board delayed a decision to buy more TASERS and instead asked the city's Medical Officer of Health report on the health impact of TASERS.

This was one of the first instances in which the new improved Police Services Board, (with provincial appointee Alok Muhkerjee serving at his first meeting) was on display. It was refreshing to see the Board wade into this issue and make what amounts to the most sensible of motions - look at the evidence first before deciding on a course of action.

Just one week after this decision, a headline in the New York Times read, 'Claims over TASERS' Safety are Challenged.' The article discusses the use of TASERS by more than 5000 US police forces, even though they have not been subject to independent studies.

The matter of TASER purchases was raised again by Chief Fantino at the December 16 Board meeting, taking several members of the Board by surprise. Fantino had, apparently without the Board's knowledge, brought along Ontario's deputy chief coroner to criticize Amensty International's objectisons to TASERS, and to testify in favour of immediate purchase of the new guns. (It has also been reported that Fantino has a "good working relationship" with Bernard Kerik, former New York police commissioner, and board member of Taser International.)

Much pressure was exerted on the Board to immediately purchase the new guns without waiting for the study from the Medical Officer of Health, but it was decided to reconsider the matter at the January meeting.

3. A new commitment to community policing?

At the October and November meetings, the Toronto Police Services Board struggled with a report from Chief Fantino which argued that he was doing all he was able to do about community policing with the funds available and a skeptical response from several community leaders (including councillor Sylvia Watson) who suggested that changed priorities were in order within the existing budget.

At the November meeting the Board made a series of motions to reconfirm its commitment to community policing and review the budget allocations now made to it to determine if they are adequate. It also asked the chief to report on the various committees the police force has established for community consultation to determine whether they are effective in giving communities real voice, and to also report on where foot and bike patrols are useful and how they might be increased after consultation with communities affected. These reports have been requested for the Board meeting on January 13, but if past practice is any indication, they may not appear until a later meeting.

This could be the start of a welcome new direction for the Toronto force in community policing.

4. Policing priorities in Toronto

In October 2004, TPAC asked readers of its electronic Bulletin to give their opinions on general policy priorities in Toronto, and desirable characteristics to be secured in the selection of a new chief of police for the city.

The survey offered 16 different selections for the police service priorities, as well as opportunities to suggest others; and 11 selections for the characteristics of a new police chief, and the opportunities to suggest others. In all some 87 responses were obtained, which is about 40% of the subscribers to the Bulletin.

The results of the survey show a high degree of agreement among respondents.

The five key points for the police service are:

  1. Create mechanisms for better accountability
  2. End programs that target marginalized groups including homeless people,
  3. Implement recommendations of audits, inquests and other police service reviews, such as Jane Doe audit and Edmond Yu inquest
  4. Work more co-operatively with services such as women and youth services
  5. Make more efficient use of current financial allocations immigrants and refuges, and queer community events

Very little or no support was provided for the following suggested possibilities:

  1. Increase the number of officers
  2. Secure funding to expand police services
  3. More emphasis on controlling youth crime
  4. Use more video surveillance
  5. Helicopters

The five key priorities for characteristics of a new police chief:

  1. Supports independent review of complaints against the police
  2. Is able to work with diverse communities by welcoming meaningful consultation and incorporating feedback
  3. Effectively addresses corruption and allegations of corruption within the force
  4. Takes effective action to limit racial profiling.
  5. Understands need to depoliticize the role of the chief while working effectively with governments

Little support was provided for the following key characteristics of a police chief:

  1. Negotiate for more money.
  2. Wants to improve public image
  3. Strong leadership

It is TPAC's intention to take these results to the Police Services Board and to ask that they be used as they key criteria in selecting a new chief. The Board had earlier promised to hold a public meeting on selection criteria before the private selection process got underway. That meeting had been promised before Christmas, but attempts to have the Board finalize a date for this meeting have been unsuccessful. It is expected in January.

5. 2005 Police budget

The 2004 police budget was subject to much attention, not only for the size of the increase it demanded (about $40 million more than the previous year, which represented virtually all of the city's budget increase), but also because it did not seem to have been analyzed with the same care that other city budgets had been reviewed.

This year, the Board apparently made up for those short comings. It claims to have spent more than 40 hours looking at the 2005 budget submission by staff. The result is the recommendation of a total police budget for $2005 of $692.7 million. This is $15.2 million over the 2004 budget.

But there's a big kicker in this. The 2005 budget does not include any increase in salaries, since the contract with employees is yet to be negotiated. If one assumes that police are held to a 3 per cent increase in 2005, without any signing bonus, that will add a further $20 million to the budget, so that spending in 2005 will be about $35 million more than in 2004. In other words, police spending continues to be beyond what Toronto can reasonably afford, particularly given the unmet needs of kids and youth, where city spending is far from meeting basic needs.

TPAC hopes to have comment on the 2005 budget early in the New Year.

6. A welcome appointment to OCCOPS

Tammy Landau, associate professor of criminal justice at Ryerson University, has been appointed by the provincial government to the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, for a three year term. Ms Landau has authored a number of paper about police issues, including important material on police complaints models, what works and what doesn't, and on aboriginal justice.

This is a most useful appointment to a body which could play an important police oversight role. It currently hears appeals of disciplinary and complaint matters from local police forces, deals with complaints about police boards and chief, and resolves budget disputes between police forces and local councils. Although in recent years it is a body which seems to have floundered. Ms Landau brings knowledge and intellectual rigour to the Commission.

7. Most recent police statistics

The 2004 Environmental Scan has recently been published by the Corporate Planning division of the Toronto Police Service. This annual document summarizes the most recent statistics and information available about policing in Toronto. This year the report is a 276 page document which the police provide only in return for $50.00 cash. It is available from the Corporate Planning division, 416 808 8080.

Crime continues to fall even though Toronto has grown by 20 per cent (about half a million people) in the last decade. Since 1994, crime has fallen 20%, mostly in property crime, but violent crimes as well, albeit marginally, by about 1%. In the last year violent crime decreased 4%. (p.29 - 30).

The total number of individual persons charged was just over 50,000, which is in the general range of recent years. The total number of charges laid was 197,000 - every person faced, on average four criminal charges. (p.52, 56, 62)

The number of people charged with drug related offences was 4,423. (p. 52) The number of occasions in which weapons were used in crimes decreased by about 30% over the last ten years. (p.29)

The drop in rates of crime is reflected in the workload of officers. Crimes per officers have dropped just over 25 per cent in the last ten years; and during the same period calls per officer have dropped 14 per cent. (p. 56) Dividing the total number of officers (5200) into the number of people charged each year (50,000), each officer on average arrests about 9 individuals a year, or one every six weeks. Violent crimes constitute less than 20 per cent of all crimes each year, so most arrests do not involve an individual charged with a violent crime.

Crime rates in Toronto are very low compared to other Canadian cities. The crime rate per population in Toronto is lower than in Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, Hamilton and London. (p.58.) Toronto ranks 11th in crime in a list of large Canadian cities. Nevertheless, at $243 per capita, Toronto has the largest per capita cost for policing in the country, compared to Calgary ($199), Ottawa ($166), Vancouver ($240) and Montreal ($233).

Youth crime is not increasing. Last year 8,678 youth were charged with offences. (p.67) Crimes committed on school property continue to fall. The number of youth involved with drug offences - about 450 - is less than last year. (p.81)

Last year there were 66,667 collisions in Toronto of which more than 15,000 involved personal injuries. Police attended about one third of these collisions and on average they spent 101 minutes at a property damage collision , and 273 minutes at a personal injury collision, (p.107, 116, 117) The document urges that something must be done, stating on p.117 "the service needs to identify how officer time is spend at collisions and if possible identify and implement ways to reduce this time. This will free up officer time and resources for other calls and policing services." On p.120 it is suggested that the service consider "expanding the mandate of the collision reporting centres to reduce officer time spent at collisions."

The use of red light cameras is noted favourably and also that the cost to run the program, about $11 million, only half of which is picked up in fines. The Works Department found that "dangerous collisions at Toronto intersections have decreased by 18% since the cameras were installed."

The report gives a brief summary of the eleven special traffic programs run by the police for the year, many for just five days - such as Operation Target Street, Operation Transit Watch, and so forth - but has no data on the success or otherwise of these programs. (p. 128 - 131)

The total number of calls per service was just under 2 million, which is generally similar to previous years. (Dividing total calls for service by the number of officers (5200) and the number of days the average officer works (250), the calls for service per officer is about 1.5 each working day.

Of this number of calls for service, half were for what are considered to be 'emergencies'. These emergences are then broken down into priority calls for which compliance rates are set. (p.135-136.) The median response time for Priority One calls was 10.9 minutes. Police were only able to respond to 1/3 of Priority One calls within six minutes whereas the performance standard is that 85% of these calls will be responded to within six minutes. For Priority Two and Three emergency calls, the median response time was 15 minutes and of these only 13% were responded to within six minutes, even though the standard is the same for Priority One calls. It is clear that the police are not responding appropriately to emergency calls.

For non-emergency calls a median response time was 27 minutes and it is noted that "76% of such calls received a police officer within 60 minutes. (p.137)

On average police spent 260 minutes on first priority emergency calls, 55% more time than in 1996. For other calls the average time spent is 147 minutes which is double the time spent in 1996. The number of officers attending these calls has also increased to 3.6 for a Priority One call and 2.3 officers for other calls. (p.138)

The report makes the point that it is important to analyze the efficiency and effectiveness of this response and that the service should be setting reasonable service time standards for calls to make better use of officers. (p.140-141).

In terms of composition of the police force, the force is slowly becoming more representative of the city. Of the total of 5,200 officers about 600 are from racial minorities, 42 are aboriginal. (p.190-192) About 700 are female. 86 per cent of officers are male, a decline from 90 per cent ten years ago. At these rates, it will be a long time before the force reflects the racial and sexual mix of Toronto.
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
E-mail: info@tpac.ca