Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 25

December 22nd 2005

1. Large increase in police budget
2. Moving slowly on racial profiling
3. The unnoticed pepper spray
4. The case for Wyann Ruso

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 25, December 22, 2005

This bulletin is published monthly by the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, 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. Large increase in police budget
2. Moving slowly on racial profiling
3. The unnoticed pepper spray
4. The case for Wyann Ruso
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Large increase in police budget

The Toronto Police Service Board is recommending a very substantial increase in expenditure for the police service. Budgeted expenditure for 2005 was $693 million and for 2006 the Board is requesting $753 million  an increase of $60 million. This represents an increase of about 9% and continues the extraordinary increases that have happened on a yearly basis since 2002 when the police budget was about $550 million. Other city services have been asked to hold the line or reduce expenditure, but the police have been given a free hand with the citys money. Police expenditures will consume about 45 % of net city expenditure for 2006.

TPAC went to the Board to oppose the increase, arguing that there were considerable inefficiencies within the police service that needed to be addressed before more money was thrown at the problem. Officers spend twice as long on priority service calls as they did in 1996  73 minutes in 1996 and 143 minutes in 2004. Police spend 40 per cent more time dealing with automobile accidents now than they did in 1996. We argued if the police force was as efficient today as nine years ago there would be no need to increase the number of officers.

We also again mentioned that the number of service calls responded to by the police is about one per officer per shift, and on average each officer can expect to arrest one person every six weeks. These figures - all from police sources  raise questions about the current efficiency of the force.

The Board brushed aside these concerns and approved the extra $60 million for next year, asking the Chief to report on the time taken on service calls and accidents. The Chief talked to the press stating our concerns were not well founded since police spent more time on domestic calls, and reporting requirements for impaired driving cases all take up much of their time. But impaired driving incidents are not part of service calls or automobile accidents, and the number of domestic calls is a very, very small percentage of police work.

In any case, the enlarged budget has been recommended to City Council. Past experience shows that councillors refuse to contain police expenditure save for a few million dollars which will be shaved off to bring the requested increase down to a mere $50 or 55 million.

Substantial increases can be expected in coming years as well. Its not that the city is just hiring an additional 150 officers as the mayor suggested in August. The deployment at the start of this year was 5,237, and by the end of next year it will 5,510, an increase of almost 300 officers. Police documents indicate that approval has been given to expand that still further by an additional 100 officers, to a total of 400 added strength. The police have not seen an increase like this in more than 20 years.

2. Moving slowly on racial profiling

The new Chair of the Toronto Police Service Board, Alok Mukherjee, has waded into the issue of racial profiling by reviving the Board/Service Joint Working Group on Race Relations. This group, consisting of only Board and police staff  no members of the community  was established in late 2002 after the Toronto Star published its articles concluding there was racial profiling by Toronto police. But little had come from the group until Mr. Mukherjee reactivated it again in July 2005. It has now suggested a new policy that  discriminatory treatment&.on the basis of race, sex, place of origin, sexual orientation, age, disability and socio-economic status will not be tolerated - a fine statement, given that it is the law and in fact specifically referred to in the Police Service Act and its regulations. Mr. Mukherjees report proposed that a public ceremony be held on March 21, United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, to sign an equity policy statement, and that the group develop a program including training to be implemented in 2007.

TPAC asked for more specific action, more quickly, including: an active campaign to prosecute officers who discriminate; a program to determine the extent to which racial profiling is now occurring, as happened in Kingston, Ontario; the inclusion of members of the community in the Working Group; a policy with the objective of hiring next year to reflect the race and gender of Torontos population (about half female and one-third people of colour); a complaints process with independent investigators; and immediate training of existing officers to reduce racial profiling.

The Board decided to take no action on our proposals, instead endorsing Mr. Mukherjees approach.

3. The unnoticed pepper spray.

Toronto police officer Brook Blanchfield testified in court in mid-November that he didnt notice any pepper spray being used when he and another ten officers intervened to break up an informal rap concert being held one summer evening in the Entertainment District. And he didnt notice the pepper spray stain on sweater of the youth arrested - a stain obvious on the booking video. None of the officers had noted in their books that pepper spray had been used, or in any other records disclosed to the accused.

But the case turned around quickly when the youths mother, in court as a witness, opened the sealed bag in which her sons sweater had been stored since the arrest, and several people in the court were overcome with the pepper spray fumes. The Crown decided not to call any other officers to dispute the matter, the judge concluded the officer had `misled the court (according to the report in the Toronto Star on December 10), and the charges were withdrawn.

It brings to mind the time when four officers knew for sure that Said Jama Jama tried to assault one of them, and they all wrote it down in their book as though it was true  until a videotape was produced which showed that the officer had assaulted Jama Jama. That officer has since been convicted of assault, although not yet sentenced. Nor has any disciplinary action been taken against the officers who made false reports in their notebooks.

The credibility of an organization depends on its standards for honesty and truthfulness. When does police management intend to start applying these standards in these cases? Will there be some clear signal to the public that incidents of this nature will be investigated and appropriate discipline imposed?

4. The case for Wyann Ruso

The following is the main text of a December 15 presentation by a group of George Brown students to the Police Services Board on the Wyan Ruso case - although under Board rules her name could not be mentioned:

We represent a concerned group of students and Toronto citizens who will be working in the field of womens services in the future. We want to present you with over 2000 signed postcards from a wide range of community members in support of 4 demands. We want to know what has happened to the promised investigation into the failure of 42 Division officers to respond to a Scarborough womans report of death threats made by her husband, on November 3, 2004? A failure to act that culminated in a horrific attack against the woman at her home. As we are sure you will recall, (then) Chief Fantino promised to get to the bottom of what he acknowledged was a case of human error on the part of his officers. Its now been over a year, and the community has had no accounting for this lapse from the Toronto Police Service.

One woman was almost killed that day, and will suffer for the rest of her life from this brutal attack. The Toronto Police Service owes her, and all women in our city, an explanation about why this happened, and evidence that appropriate steps are being taken to ensure that it does not happen again. There is no acceptable reason for the delay. A police service that wishes to convey to abused women that they are determined to provide the best and most equitable service possible; would have quickly responded with an apology, a plan of action, and a settlement to the individual in question.

We understand that the particulars of an investigation into individual officers actions (or lack of them, as in this case) cannot be made public, and we are not suggesting they should be. But we see the individual officers failure to act to be indicative of deeper problems when looking at the response of the Toronto Police Service to domestic violence. We are concerned that there may be a more widely spread attitude of indifference to crimes that disproportionately affect half of Torontos citizens  crimes that account for a significant number of 911 calls for service each year.

In November 2004, the actions of a few officers with the Toronto Police Service sent a disturbing message to abused women and to the men who attack them; namely that this issue is not a priority, that you will not help women to protect themselves, and that there is no urgency to ensure accountability for your services to them. The lack of follow-up by the Chief and the Board sends a similar message to rank and file officers.

We urge you to erase those messages by:
* Directing Chief Blair to release the results of the investigation into the November 3rd incident as soon as possible
* Working with woman abuse experts to develop a comprehensive plan of action that will ensure that all officers will act immediately and appropriately in all cases of woman abuse
* Issuing a formal apology to the Scarborough woman on behalf of the service and the Board
* Negotiating a settlement with her that acknowledges the trauma she has suffered as a result of the officers lack of action.

We are here before you today to tell you that women in Toronto cannot feel safe when any of our sisters is left to face violence alone by Toronto Police. It is in your hands to ensure that women can count on receiving the equal protection that is our right from this point forward. We are certain that you will agree, that given the level of recent violence in our city, the issue does not only concern women - as we have seen in Toronto since this attack, mens violence and need for control continues to have traumatizing impacts on their partners/ex-partners, their children and families, and indeed, on the entire community. We urge you to take the necessary steps immediately.

The Board received the presentation, hinting that some report may be made soon. It seemed clear that lawyers had told Board members to say nothing since that might imply liability. Thats a very frustrating strategy. Some American hospitals have learned that legal liability actually declines when errors are admitted and apologies are made.

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