As part of a civics activism class late last November, Grade seven and eight students at Carleton Village Public School near 11 Division were highly critical of the Service’s use of force.
Their criticism centred on police involvement in incidents where deadly force was used.
A total of 19 signed student letters were forwarded to Chief Bill Blair’s office where they were reviewed by Inspector Stu Eley. He sent a letter to Lorelei Eccleston, the school’s principal, suggesting discussion and resolution at the Divisional level.
“Some students went to the Toronto Police website to get some insight before writing their letters and that was good,” said Superintendent Heinz Kuck, 11 Division unit commander. “But for the most part, their information was based on mainstream media reports, what they heard from their parents at the dinner table and from school conversations.”
On Jan. 21, Kuck accompanied by Inspector Ed Roseto, Staff Sergeant Phillip Van Andel and Constable Eric Berridge went over to the school to address some of the student’s concerns and provide them with an insight into police tactics and decision-making prior to use of force.
“The principal and teaching staff invited us over to construct a plan of how to best address the students on their terms to a have a true understanding of the complexities of use of force training and the laws we are guided by and present a more balanced view of what is really happening out there,” said Kuck. “The principal and teachers were more than happy to have us because they wanted a well-balanced perspective and not just a one-dimensional view from mainstream media.”
The same day police visited the school coincided with celebrations to mark the late Dr.King’s birthday. The U.S. national holiday commemorating King’s birthday was enacted in 1993.
“We started off by talking about pathways to peace using Dr. King’s legacy,” said Kuck. “That really set the stage for the kids realizing there is a greater focus out there than just violence within the community. When Ed talked about the complexities of firearms and Taser usage and how stringent conditions are for their actual use, the kids were aghast. They had no idea about the amount of paperwork and legality we are governed by. The students left with a spring in their steps and a real appreciation for the difficulty and complexity of the police environment.”
Roseto said the open forum provided an incredible healing effect and answered many of the student’s questions.
“Some of the young people were of the opinion that police officers have no guidance or training and that they basically go out there and do whatever they want to anybody,” he said. “What I made very obvious was my experience with the Service’s Professional Standards Unit on two separate occasions and all the oversight there is not just in our Service but from outside agencies like the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) and the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD).
“I explained to them how stringent our training is and everytime something happens, we add something new to our training so that this doesn't happen again. Their perceptions from the media about things that happen when people are seriously injured are skewed one way and I explained to them that when the SIU is involved, we can’t say anything so you are only getting one side of the story.”