The report's recommendations aim to reduce policing costs over three years.
Not that the Toronto Police Service is ever exempt from public scrutiny, but the past few months have been especially difficult for the city’s bluecoats.
In February, Council tentatively approved the TPS’s enormous operating budget—a figure marginally north of $1 billion and the subject of harsh criticism from former mayor John Sewell, who lambasted the proposal for its alarming lack of transparency. A month later, TPS workers arrived at work to find Black Lives Matter activists parked outside of police headquarters, a protest formed largely in response to the death of Andrew Loku and the non-indictment of the officer that shot him.
Meanwhile, Police Chief Mark Saunders was chided by Toronto Star columnist Royson James for a lacklustre year on the job, and again by marijuana activists for the TPS’s impromptu crackdown on Toronto dispensaries.
All things considered, a distraction could not have come at a better time for the TPS.
On June 16, an interim report titled “The Way Forward: Modernizing Community Safety in Toronto” was presented to the media by TPS board co-chairs Andy Pringle and Mark Saunders.
The report outlines 24 bold recommendations aimed at reducing costs over the next three years and hopes to invoke a “community-centric” approach to policing. Among them are a number of recommendations that, if approved, will alter many Torontonians’ day-to-day interactions with police.
The report proposes new approaches to training, hiring, and interacting with the surrounding community. Most prominently, it recommends that the Toronto Police Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), a provincially funded unit gone awry, be disbanded, and that improved public safety responses be implemented instead.
Of course, the report remains rather vague—as glossy municipal reports often are—but the notion of a reconfigured public relations strategy for crime-ridden neighbourhoods are a step in the right direction.
Meanwhile, the proposal seeks to shave off $100 million in budgetary spending, in part by placing a three-year freeze on hiring and promoting police officers. In turn, the hiring freeze will gradually reduce the quantity of on-duty officers—a move that would comfortably accommodate a city with a gradually decreasing crime rate.
Some will reference the recent spike in gun violence over the past year as reason to be skeptical of a seemingly not-so-tough-on-crime report: while the overall crime rate decreases, recent statistics released by the TPS show that the city is nearing its worst gun death toll since 2005, otherwise labeled the “Year of the Gun.”
In an effort to stifle violent crime, Saunders told the media that multiple police divisions will be redrawn in order to locate officers closer to areas where these types of crimes are mostly occurring. He noted a particular “swish” through the city where most of the violent crimes are taking place, and that the reconfiguration of police divisions intend to optimize their officers’ disposition relative to these areas.
As many have said, and as many will say repeatedly until any democratic consensus is reached, implementing these proposed changes are easier said than done. We have yet to see whether the TPS and the police union will reach consensus on job reconfigurations, and we have yet to see whether a replacement for TAVIS will be different beyond its given title.
It’s a time for tentative optimism. But optimism nonetheless.