John Sewell —
Toronto Police Accountability Bulletin No. 78 — On August 27, Madeleine Meilleur, the Ontario Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, announced that every police officer in the province could carry a conducted energy weapon (CEW), providing the local police services board agreed. Current provisions only allow supervisors and special teams—no more than 10% of all officers—to carry CEWs. The announcement states that new draft guidelines will be posted on the government website for public comment lasting 30 days before the change is implemented. The draft guidelines were not posted as of Sept. 11, 2103. CLICK HERE
The ministry states it “initiated a review to explore the advisability of expanding deployment of CEWs. The review included an examination of current medical literature, a jurisdictional scan and consultation with stakeholders, including police and civil liberties advocates.” TPAC, which has been commenting on Taser issues for a decade, was not consulted and was unaware of the review. As noted in Bulletin No. 77, we were aware of the Ministry’s study begun in May 2012 into the “manner in which police officers in Ontario respond to persons with e mental illness,” and the Ministry commended TPAC for its interest in the matter. But in the 15 months since then, staff have completed only Phase One, gathering evidence, and have yet embark on the next step, to develop policy.
The ministry said its announcement had nothing to do with the death of Sammy Yatim in Toronto a month earlier, and the announcement was substantially undercut two days later by the Peel Region police using a CEW on an 80-year-old grandmother experiencing confusion due to dementia as she walked along a roadway in Mississauga at 3 am. As a result of the use of CEW, the woman fell to the ground and suffered a broken hip.
TPAC has written the Minister asking that any final decision be delayed until the several reviews into police use of force are completed in progress. TPAC believes the change is not warranted since CEWs are used by police to demand compliance from those who do not respond immediately to police orders, and often compliance is not what is needed or likely to result, but it is what police demand.
We stated that if the Ministry insists on proceeding immediately, the guidelines be set in regulation applicable to all police forces in the province, and contain the following provisions:
- The CEW is classified as a “lethal weapon.” The Ministry has classified CEWs as a “less-lethal weapon” for many years, at least since a memorandum from the deputy minister was sent to all chiefs of police on Jan. 13, 2005. There are enough examples in Ontario (the death of Aron Firman in Collingwood in 2010 being one recent example) to indicate that the CEW causes death and thus is a lethal weapon. The ministry must reclassify it as such.
- CEWs shall not be used by a police officer to force immediate compliance, but only as a last resort when all other options, have been exhausted and serious harm is imminent.
- Before a CEW is employed in any fashion, the officer(s) shall employ de-escalation tactics, and if such tactics are not employed, the officer(s) shall face disciplinary charges.
- All CEWs shall be equipped with a video camera which will operate when any CEW is employed in any fashion, and any officer who disables or turns off the video camera when the CEW is in use will be charged with a disciplinary offence.
- A report shall be filed with the local police force by the officer(s) involved in the incident each time a CEW is employed, and the report will fully describe the incident including de-escalation tactics used, and the video tape will be filed with the report.
We urge those interested in the issue to write the Minister and their local MPP making similar suggestions for delay and for regulations.
Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) holds a public meeting on CEWs
The TPSB has announced a “Public Meeting on Expansion of Use of Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs)” on Tuesday Sept. 24 from 4:30—7PM, Committee room 4, Toronto City Hall.
The announcement says the board is specifically interested in the following questions:—Do you think that there should be an expansion of CEWs to front-line officers in Toronto?
- What conditions do you think should be attached to the use of CEWs?
- Do you have specific suggestions regarding training in CEW use?
- What measures do you think could help ensure accountability with respect to use of CEWs by police?
The board (as usual) is limiting deputations will be limited to 5 minutes. Doesn’t it realize that those seriously interested in the issue cannot compress helpful information into that short time frame?
To sign up to make a deputation, email Sheri Chapman or phone 416-808-8080. Or, submissions may be emailed to Ms Chapman.
For those thinking that more police training might be of assistance, it may be helpful to review some history. Chief Julian Fantino reported in March 2005 when the police force was given authority to buy and distribute more than 500 new CEWs for supervisors, that since 1994 officers have been required to attend a crisis resolution course which included de-escalation techniques. The length of the training course has changed over time, starting at 10 days, then falling to five days. Fantino notes that officers receive de-escalation training “on a continual and yearly basis, and it is incorporated as a key component in the Advanced Patrol Training Program. The training has proven to be extremely effective and has contributed significantly to enhanced officer and public safety.” (See Board minutes for 2005, March 8,page 39.)
If 19 years of de-escalation training still leads to officers shooting and/or tasering individuals who die as a result, how many more years of training are needed before one tries a new strategy? TPAC suggests that the police force needs a new strategy where a first responder team expert in de-escalation in called in for cases where individuals (such as those in mental crisis) do not respond to command and control techniques.
If more CEWs are to be deployed, whatever the province does, the Toronto Police Service should adopt the controls suggested above, such as video equipped machines, mandatory de-escalation as a first step, and so forth. But the first and clearest option is simply to refuse to spend money on more CEWs, and instead have the police force adopt new strategies such as using the Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams as first responders.
It is unclear why the board is holding a meeting at this time, when provincial guidelines for CEW control have still not been released. Probably it is a budgeting problem: the police board has said that the 2014 operating budget for the police will be discussed at a public meeting on Oct. 29, and the board probably wants to determine whether politically it can slip the millions of dollars needed for the new CEWs (maybe $6 million?) into its budget request before Oct. 29.
Board distances itself from Sammy Yatim case
On August 13 the chair of the Toronto Police Services Board released a long statement about how concerned the board was about the death of Sammy Yatim. It wanted to ensure “appropriate action was taken”; that the chief’s report “will be very thorough and comprehensive”; that “the police interaction with people experiencing mental health issues is of greatest concern to the Board.”
It continued, “We very much hope that Justice O’Connor [now replaced by former judge Frank Iacobucci] will look at systemic issues in the light of prior incidents.” The statement also noted “that while the Board will respect and uphold the law, it will remain actively involved in efforts to improve policing services to people with mental illness, to do everything in its power to find ways that prevent death, and to ensure that there are effective and meaningful systems of supervision and accountability.”
Taking the board at its word, TPAC wrote asking to speak at the Sept. 13 board meeting for two reasons. First, we wanted to get the reports on the death of others in mental crisis killed by Toronto police. Section 11 of Ontario Regulation 267/10 of the Police Services Act requires the chief to file such reports with the board and the board can make them public. Second, we wanted to learn the terms of reference for Mr. Iacobucci and whether he would allow public input.
The board dismissed our request to speak on Sept. 13. In respect to our request to the reports on those killed, the acting chair stated: “I invite you to seek access to these reports pursuant to a Freedom-of-Information request which will ensure that appropriate information is released.”
The acting chair continued: “As you know, the review to be conducted by Justice Iacobucci is being coordinated by the Chief of Police in accordance with his statutory responsibility to complete a sec. 11 investigation.” As for our requests for the terms of reference and the process to be used: “you may wish to forward these to the Chief for his consideration.”
We had trouble believing what the board was doing, and replied: The actions in your response belie the Board’s words about seeking accountability and taking the Sammy Yatim death seriously. From Section 11 of Regulation 267/10 it is clear the Board is in possession of the chief’s investigations into those killed by Toronto police officers, and that the Board has the ability to make them public. It is the Board that is specifically authorized to make these investigations public. Releasing the previous investigations would indicate at least that you have been dealing with this issue in the past and were willing to share what you know. Requiring a Freedom of Information (FOI) application is simply a way for you to throw up barriers and avoid responsibility, and for all we know, perhaps an FOI request will fail because it is only the Board, not the Police Service, authorized to release them.
Refusing to look into the chief’s terms of reference for Mr. Iacobucci seems to indicate that the Board is not paying attention to this issue. Requiring the chief to tell you the terms of reference for Mr. Iacobucci and then sharing them with others would indicate that you really did want to use your powers for a useful purpose. Telling us to ask these questions of the chief is just another barrier thrown up by the Board.
We concluded with some thoughts about the report on the G20 fiasco. “The honourable John Morden’s report on the G20 was very powerful in documenting the failure of the Board to fulfill its mandate of providing civilian oversight. The Report states: “The Board has limited its consultative mandate and has viewed it as improper to ask questions about, comment on, and make recommendations concerning operational matters. The Board’s approach in this regard has been wrong.’ (Page 6) Recommendation 4 (page 8) expands on what the Board should be doing.
“It is unclear that the Board has changed anything in the way it approaches its duties since the release of that report. Your email of September 9 does nothing to indicate that the Board is an effective body in providing effective civilian oversight, at least on this important issue of how those in mental crisis are treated by police. ”
We are very pessimistic that the board will play any useful role in changing police policy. We would love to be surprised but are not holding our breath.
The new neighbourhood policing, details
As noted in Bulletin No. 76, Toronto police have embarked, unannounced, on a new neighbourhood policing program. Here’s what we have learned from a meeting that Deputy Chief Peter Sloley recently held in a community:
Each division has a minimum of one neighbourhood team made up of two sets of two officers who work every day of the year in eight day stints, working 10 hours per day. The hours are flexible as long as they work 10 hours, and they will arrange their schedules based on community events or priorities. The number of teams in every division is based on the crime rate and necessity to have officers building trust with the community they are sent to. Each team will be posted for a minimum of two years with an overlap of old and new officers during the transition period.
TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) is supposed to take direction from the neighbourhood officers. Before doing a sweep of an area, TAVIS must speak to the division superintendents and the neighborhood officers if they are to be in a designated area, and the TAVIS leaders must take direction from them. There may be hiccups between TAVIS and neighbourhood officers if a shooting takes place in a neighbourhood.
Where did this program come from? Dr. Hugh Russell spoke on this matter at a meeting of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police, June 2010 CLICK LINK
And apparently the program was developed in the last few years. The speech document is not clear on details, such as diverting youth from the criminal justice system. Apparently Dr. Russell developed some of the curriculum and training for the neighborhood officers, and will be conducting evaluations. He will be speaking to key stakeholders via meetings and surveys to gather information to see if the project is working.
The neighbourhood policing initiative is mentioned on the Toronto Police Service website, with some stories of officer interaction, but few hard principles. CLICK LINK
Further, a contact at one Downtown police division had no knowledge of the program at that division, and social agencies say that few divisions have an active program to divert youth from the criminal justice system. The police service has never issued a media release about the program.
The program sounds promising, but its goals are not clear, the gaps in existing services offered by police are large, and the assessment criteria are not spelled out; all of which means it is difficult to assess what kind of a useful impact this neighbourhood policing initiative will have.
Chief Blair and the SIU
Ian Scott has headed up the Special Investigations Unit for the past five years, and will leave his position in October. He is not leaving quietly, and has specifically complained about the lack of co-operation between the Toronto Police Service and the SIU. He noted that for 106 letters sent to Chief Blair of the 224 cases investigated by the SIU in the past five years that did not involve charges, Chief Blair responded substantively to just one, a case related to blacked-out notes.
Scott said other police forces seem quite willing to co-operate with his office. Mark Pugash, the public relations person at Toronto Police, responded briskly that Chief Blair reports to the Toronto Police Services Board, not to the SIU, as though that is a satisfactory answer. LINK HERE
TPAC has asked the board to enact a policy about co-operating with the SIU (see Bulletin No. 69, July 2012) but the board decided to do nothing.
The trap of not getting bail
A new study by the John Howard Society of Ontario notes the bail problem in Ontario:
As past studies have noted, the risk aversion starts at the policing stage, but by no means ends there. Less people charged with criminal offences are released by the police on a ‘promise to appear’ or a summons, than they were historically. This shift in practice translates into a greater volume of people being detained (in jail) until their bail hearing. Consequently, being detained prior to one’s bail hearing has negative bearing on the likelihood of being released on bail—particularly for individuals from racialized communities. For those who do receive bail, it comes with far more conditions attached than it would have years ago, which invite a host of other issues (not least of which, more charges). These trends point to why solely targeting administrative delays—while important—will not cure what ails bail. Bail needs to be rebuilt from the ground, up.
The report notes that one fifth of the cases before adult criminal court concern breaches of bail conditions. It suggests that bail conditions about behaviour should be used much less frequently, and there should be much more attention to the presumption of release.
The report can be found HERE.