Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 39, January 21, 2008

January 21st 2008

In this issue:
1. Forum on Tasers, February 6
2. Taser International comes to Toronto
3. Police shift work to shift?
4. Dealing with perpetrators of woman abuse

Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 39, January 21, 2008.

This Bulletin is published almost 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. Forum on Tasers, February 6
2. Taser International comes to Toronto
3. Police shift work to shift?
4. Dealing with perpetrators of woman abuse
5. Subscribe to the Bulletin
1. Forum on Tasers, February 6

Toronto Police Accountability Coalition is sponsoring a public meeting:

The Shock of the Taser,
A discussion of the police use of shock and stun guns
Wednesday February 6, 2008
7.00 pm
Town Hall, Innis College
St. George and Sussex Streets, one block south of Bloor

* David Reville, advocate and builder of the psychiatric survivor movement.
* Naomi Klein, author of `The Shock Doctrine, The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
* Andy Buxton, chair, Amnesty International Toronto organization
Moderator: Anna Willats, Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.

Please tell your colleagues and friends about this public meeting.

2. Taser International Comes to Toronto

The stakes for Taser International are huge. If the company can get the Toronto police force to agree to spend $8.6 million to equip every member of the force with a taser, it will be able to go around to every other police force in Canada and say: the largest force in the country thinks every officer should have a taser  why not your force too? Chief Bill Blair is on side, and has recommended the purchase, but the Toronto Police Services Board seems to have some reluctance to proceed.

So it was a real coup for Thomas Smith, chair of Taser International, to be invited by the Board to make a presentation at police headquarters on January 17 about how great his product is. What more could someone ask for when they are looking at a $8.6 million sale?

TPAC objected, writing Board members that, Giving a possible supplier such a privileged vantage point & is improper. It is the continuation of the cosy relationship that Taser International seems to have with others who have spoken in favour of the use of its product, such as deputy coroner James Cairns (who has appeared at the Board supporting the purchase of Tasers.) As reported by the Globe and Mail on November 30, 2007, Taser International paid for Dr. Cairns expenses to speak in favour of Tasers at one conference. TPAC suggested that Taser should rent its own space to make its pitch. No Board member responded to our objection.

Smith made his pitch with a slide show for about 45 minutes, at which point there were questions (or rather hostile speeches) from the audience. Two points stand out from his presentation. First, he continually talked about how the taser could stop someone from attacking an officer. But an incident where an officer is under attack from someone is very rare. Toronto data shows that about 98 per cent of all tasers are discharged in regard to someone who is in a state of mental crisis, only rarely being a threat to a police officer (see TPAC Bulletin No. 35, May 2007.) So the device is best used, according to Smith, for something that very rarely occurs.

Second, Smith made the point that the two day training done by Taser deals only with how to work the gun, not with situations in which it should be deployed. Thus training does not include such matters as assessing the nature of the problem, the different kinds of approaches that might be taken (such as talking to the person), or so forth: Smith said that was a matter for the local force to decide on. But Torontos chief has not been willing to release the policy or protocol about taser use, so we dont know when it might be used. As one speaker noted, if police are trained properly, then they wont use the taser.

Questioners at the meeting raised several interesting points. While most police officials suggest that tasers are used instead of guns, it seems they are most often used instead of a lesser kind of intervention (such as talking) as was tragically demonstrated in the Vancouver airport incident last October. So it seems entirely likely that equipping all officers with tasers will result in an increase in the incidents of use of force by police. As well, more than 80 per cent of the people who are tasered are unarmed.

Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Police Services Board made it clear that the reporting recommending the purchase of tasers for all Toronto officers will be coming before a Board meeting in the near future.

3. Police shift work to shift?

A recommendation about police shift work is expected to surface at the Police Services Board sometime during the next month or two. A committee of the Board and the Police Association has completed a report on 12 hour shifts, and apparently the matter is ready to come forward.

Right now, most Toronto officers work on a 35 day cycle. For seven days, they work day shifts ten hours long, then get six days off. For the next seven days they work 10 hour evening shifts, then five days off. For the next seven days they work night shifts of eight hours, then get three days off. So in any 35 day period, an officer works 21 days, and has 14 days off. Then the cycle repeats itself.

Its unclear what the arrangement would be with 12 hour shifts, but surely it will mean that officers get more days off than work days in any cycle. It gives officers more time for second jobs and paid duty work on construction sites, sports events, and parties. Because of current shift work, 700+ officers in Toronto took home more than $100,000 in pay in 2006. Twelve hour shifts will increase that number.

But there are some big public issues related to shift work. After eight hours, any normal hard-working employee will be tired and will look for down time for the rest of the shift. After a second day of 10 hours shifts, theres no chance the employer will be getting solid work from the employee. Long hours dont represent public money well spent: exhaustion never results in good, attentive work.

And the on-off shift plays havoc with community relations. How does a cop who does not return to a `normal shift for four weeks maintain any reasonable relationship with anyone? From a community perspective, this shift work is dysfunctional. Emergency services like ambulances and fire departments might work OK on these kinds of shifts, but police/community relations is a non-emergency service. No other service industry runs things this way.

If theres to be a change, maybe it should be to return to the eight hour day, five out of seven days, cycle. Compressing the work week does not make for better policing.

4. Dealing with perpetrators of woman abuse

Theres good news about responding to domestic violence in Toronto. In a small but significant change, Toronto police are now following up on court orders issued because of previous domestic violence.

Where the courts have imposed some kind of order on the man involved (most usually it is the man who initiates the violence) front line officers are now making random house calls to ensure the man is complying with whatever restrictions have been placed on him by the court.

As a report to the Toronto Police Service Board last November notes, its a offender management initiative and it has resulted in a 40 per cent increase in charges about not complying with court-ordered restrictions. In short, the police are being proactive to ensure the court order is adhered to, and if it isnt, they take appropriate action. As many have complained in the past, the court order often had no consequences because a man could decide to simply ignore it without fear of anything happening. Now theres someone on their case.

As well, the report notes that the visit also allows the officer to give added support to the victim. The law gets a human face who asks how shes doing. It must be surprising for some women to realize that the officer is there not to create problems, but to lend support.

Like most effective social initiatives, this is fairly simply in nature, a slight tweaking of the way things are done. Domestic violence is very prevalent in our society and we need lots of small (and big steps) to create effective reductions in its incidence.

5. Subscribe to the Bulletin

To subscribe, or unsubscribe to this Bulletin, please send a note to j.sewell@on.aibn.com 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.

Please circulate this Bulletin to friends and colleagues who might share an interest in policing. We appreciate your comments or suggestions for stories which should be sent to j.sewell@on.aibn.com.
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Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
E-mail: info@tpac.ca