The Toronto Police Services Board and the Toronto Police Service have released an updated policy and draft procedure for community engagements for approval on April 2.
The update to the policy has come about through consultations with community members, the Board, Service members and with the help of former Chief Justice Warren Winkler, serving as a mediator, in creating the policy.
“It is consistent with the board’s core values,” said Board Chair Alok Mukherjee, regarding the draft policy, while speaking to media at a news conference March 27. “(It) strikes the right balance between the twin imperatives of treating all members of the community fairly and of keeping our neighbourhoods safe.”
The new policy is a move forward towards creating a better city, said Board Member and Mayor John Tory.
“Today represents an important landmark in advancing bias-free policing. It is yet another landmark where we, in the city of Toronto, lead in showing ourselves but also showing others around the world how we can address difficult issues at the core of how we live together.”
Chief Bill Blair said the updated policy had helped in resolving the complex issues of law while keeping in mind the importance of creating relationships between the police and the community. He said that the Service had worked the past several years to make sure interactions with the public were lawful while serving the people and keeping the city safe. Officers have received training in fair and impartial policing to ensure they go about their job free of any bias.
“We have worked in the past many years in all our diverse communities… to ensure interactions with the public are lawful and serving the important public purpose of keeping our city safe, but we also recognize that in those interactions, and the important work our men and women do every day, we will engage with members of the public in our communities.”
But an important role of any good police officer is to talk to residents, business owners and those they see on the street to prevent crime and create lasting relationships.
To inquire about what is going on in a community - that means talking to people, it is pretty much fundamental to policing and I would tell you it is fundamental to community policing. I don’t want police officers staging at the station waiting for a radio call that some catastrophe has happened where we can go out and put yellow tape around it. Our job is far more important than that.
“When I send out my police officers out into the community, across this city every day, they have a responsibility to maintain public safety, they have a responsibility to prevent crime, to investigate crime and to keep our community safe and the only way they can do that is to speak to the public and to know what is going on in communities so it is necessary, quite frankly, it is an essential part of policing,” Chief Blair said. “To inquire about what is going on in a community - that means talking to people, it is pretty much fundamental to policing and I would tell you it is fundamental to community policing. I don’t want police officers staging at the station waiting for a radio call that some catastrophe has happened where we can go out and put yellow tape around it. Our job is far more important than that.”
However, he recognized that, sometimes, such interactions can create mistrust or fear “if we are not careful in the way in which we go about doing our jobs and the way in which we treat the diverse people of the city.”
The police have an enormous responsibility that all rights are respected and all citizens treated with respect and dignity, said Blair. To continue to do so, the Service will ensure officers are provided with the right direction and training and tools in ensuring they keep the community safe.
The Mayor applauded the Chief’s dedication to improving and working towards bias-free policing in the city and emphasized the importance of balancing community relations without compromising on law enforcement.
Tory said that bias-free policing and respect for basic rights must always be put first and that to build safer communities it is important to have officers engage with community.
“The desirability of police regularly engaging citizens in their communities as we build strong and safe communities together,” is needed, Tory said.
“We know that we cannot live in a city where young black men, for example, feel devalued or disrespected… We cannot have people of colour seen as objects of fear. At the same time we cannot and should not have groups with a predetermined hostility to the police,” he said. “Our city needs good policing and that is the kind of policing Toronto Police Service has and can continue to offer and it is one of the reasons we are the safest city we are.”