Chief Mark Saunders spoke to TPSnews.ca about the beginnings of his tenure as Chief and looking ahead.
TPSnews.ca:Why did you want to take on this job and what have you learned sitting in that chair over the course of this year?
Chief Mark Saunders: I can tell you that I’ve spent 33 years policing Toronto. It’s something I love. I love working with the Toronto Police Service. Running for this job, it gives you the opportunity to say 'What’s your vision?' utilizing your experience and your skills and abilities, what do you think the vision is for the Toronto Police moving to the next level… The one thing that I can say I learned the most, is the importance of having a good, strong team beside you to be successful. If you don’t have a strong team, you’ll fail. And, so, I’m fortunate. Not only a great Command, but the unit commanders are doing a great job. They’re plugged in, they know what’s going on, and they understand the importance of community relationships. Those are the qualities that foster the success of the Toronto Police Service.
TPSnews.ca:You’ve seen a lot of leaders step up to help you at the same time?
Chief Saunders: A lot of leaders have stepped up but, more importantly, the rank and file, the men and women who, by the way, have the most pressure right now. Policing is, by far, at its most challenging phase, I would say, in history. And, every day, the men and women come in, do a professional job, answer the bell, and keep the city safe and they do so in such a professional way. It keeps us number one in the world. It really does.
Policing is, by far, at its most challenging phase, I would say, in history
TPSnews.ca: Carding has been a big issue this year. There have been regulations crafted by the province. How will it change going forward? What’s your perspective on how officers do their work?
Chief Saunders: It’s now in the hands of the government. They’ve got a challenge because what they have to try to figure out is how not to handcuff law enforcement from doing its job while, at the same time, respecting the rights and freedoms of every citizen. That regulation has to strike that balance, so that’s not going to be easy. But, looking at how it affects the Toronto Police Service, I’m a firm believer that the men and women who come to work want to do a good job and do a good job. When we look at our numbers, and the way things have changed, we need to refocus, look at our playbook and say, 'Is this the right playbook?' As Chief, I have to give officers the right tools, better tools, to help with the fight against crime, particularly with street gangs? Next year will bring an opportunity for us to really have a look at how we deploy the information that we feed, the timeliness of the information that we feed, so that our officers have the right tools so they can do what they need to do to keep the city safe.
TPSnews.ca: So the way we do business will evolve out of this?
Chief Saunders: I think there’s no choice. I think that we have to change how we do policing, absolutely.
TPSnews.ca: There is always discussion regarding controlling the budget, managing money, and obviously that’s one of your top priorities as police Chief. Are there opportunities to change the way we operate and to find savings or to change the way we do business entirely?
Chief Saunders:We have to look at our current model and say ‘Is this the most sustainable model that exists for the Toronto Police Service?’ And my answer to that is, no. I think we need to take a really hard look to see what we can do, from a transformational perspective, to change the way in which we do business, so that we can be more effective.
Looking at our radio calls – why are we going to all of these radio calls? How can we change that to allow for more proactive time for officers to patrol? Looking at technology – what technologies are out there, right now, that can assist our officers, allowing them to be more effective in their policing and also helping to reduce the workload?
Another component is looking at enforcement differently: can we utilize technology for traffic enforcement? And, if we do, does it free up a lot of officers? Absolutely. If we have fewer collisions – and when you look at the countries that have the technology – there are fewer collisions, fewer fatalities – so utilizing technology will reduce the workload substantially and free up officers to do other things. And, then, looking at our shifts. We want to work with the Association to see if there are any shifts that can allow us to be more effective and allow us better deployment in keeping the city safe?
TPSnews.ca: One of the large events this year is obviously the Pan Am Games – a huge undertaking, a big partnership with the OPP that was managed safely. What do you account for the success of it?
Chief Saunders:The Pan Am Games was a huge success and there were several reasons why. First and foremost, we had a fantastic police and civilian planning team that was put in place years before. And it’s not just a matter of having a plan, it’s a matter of having a plan and a contingency plan and another contingency plan. The planning team, right from the start, represented Toronto Police Service under (Inspector) Brian Preston’s leadership really, really well. Then the operational piece – we brought the operations in months before. And so, they were familiar with their roles and responsibilities. They had opportunities to look at the plans, to scrutinize the plans, to work on modifications for the operationalization of the plans. And then it was those two harmonious components that led to success.
We had mechanisms in place to read whether or not it was this threat level or that threat level, and determine what the right course of action would be, based on that – and we hit it right on. It was not only an opportunity to bring in the largest sporting event in Canadian history to showcase Toronto to the world, it was an opportunity for us to be fantastic ambassadors, which is what we did. The men and women who were part of that Pan Am Games security piece did a fantastic job. I got sent a whole bunch of really cool pictures of uniformed officers engaging with the kids, putting them on the police bikes and all kinds of things, and these pictures were all over the world. And it really showed the human side of the Toronto Police Service. I was really proud.
TPSnews.ca: Is there anything else that stood out for you in the course of the year?
Chief Saunders:You know, from my chair, time after time, I’ve seen tremendous work done by frontline officers. And I’m excited with what next year is going to bring. I want the world to see the investment we made with our men and women and the work that they do. There’s so much good work, I want to make sure that we promote that a whole lot better than we ever have. And I think that will help enhance our public trust factor.
From this chair, I get the opportunity of seeing all of the great stories across the city, especially the specialized officers across the city because they’re working with less but they’re still doing a fantastic job. I’ll point to one element of policing which I’m really proud of. (Inspector) Joanna Beaven-Desjardins, of Sex Crimes, and her team have really put Toronto on the map by recognizing the issue of human trafficking.
It’s a multi-billion-dollar organized criminal activity. Their enforcement activity has also raised the awareness of the provincial and federal governments. And that’s a small group of officers who have worked their tails off. I look forward to next year. I think there are going to be some amazing things from the human trafficking perspective in the city of Toronto.
TPSnews.ca: It’s something that the average person will never think about, but there is an extraordinary victimization.
Chief Saunders:When you hear the expression “human trafficking”, many people think about Third World countries. Through Inspector Beaven’s education piece, you see that it’s right in our backyard. It’s that little girl in that suburban neighbourhood. It’s a crime that’s hidden in plain sight. By enhancing awareness, there’s a fantastic opportunity to reduce, identify and apprehend. I look forward to next year when our work there expands.
TPSnews.ca: Is there any other message you’d like to pass on?
I just want to wish everyone a happy holiday. I want to thank everyone for all the support they’ve given. Next year is going to be a challenging year, but we are the greatest police service in the world. We will always answer the call to serve because that’s what we do best.