Chief Mark Saunders talks about great police work, street checks, marijuana laws, body-worn cameras and the modernization of policing in a year-end interview.
As Chief, you get to see a lot of moments in the community many others in the Service don’t, what stands out for you?
There are a lot of moments. You’re right. I have the opportunity to go to a lot of events and am out and about at a lot of events throughout the year. The impromptu conversations, I think, are the ones that stand out the most because they are unexpected. By and large, people are coming up and saying, ‘Hey, Chief I just want to say thank-you to the men and women for doing a great job. Your men and women are doing a great job.’ Those are great candid moments and it’s unfortunate that not a lot of people witness them.
The other piece is, there are so many humanitarians who live in the city who are more fortunate than others but who want to give back. So I get approached quite a bit with ‘We want to contribute this but we don’t want to be recognized for it’ so can you connect me with this agency or that agency? And I find that really fascinating, it really does make you realize why this city is so great. We have some tremendous people who live in this city who care for others. Those aren’t just words on paper. Those are real people who really care.
What have you seen over the course of the year that has reinforced your pride in the people who work for the Service?
We’ve got the best in policing in North America. I say that because we have the great work that goes on. When I look at Sex Crimes, I see how they have put combating human trafficking on the map in Canada, and how they have an international footprint with some of the work they do.
Project Spotlight (Human Trafficking Investigation)
With human trafficking, one of the biggest components that we had problems with is the victim maintenance. If there isn’t continuous work on helping these young women develop their self-esteem, they go right back into the game again. The men and women have gone out and looked for the different agencies that can help them. They’ve gone out and actively done workshops with the agencies that can be involved: the hotel industry, the concierges, the security people. Human trafficking is a crime that’s called “hidden in plain sight.” If you know what you’re looking for, you can see it clear as day but, if you have no idea, it’s so innocuous it could be walking past you. But, here again, it’s our men and women going out there and looking for the other avenues and partnerships that need to help community safety.
The uniform men and women, their response to mental health, I think that is one of the most underestimated things that we do
When you look at the organized crime aspect, you look at Project Sizzleand dismantling the Heart of a King gang, for the sheer violence they brought into the city.
And the uniform men and women, their response to mental health, I think that is one of the most underestimated things that we do. Over 24,000 times a year, this year an 11 per cent increase not just going out to the calls but apprehensions. The men and women have done a fantastic job. And those are the stories that are unfortunately not heard by the public but I can tell you they are recognized by the Command, they’re recognized by me, they’re recognized by unit commanders. So, the fact that we are able to de-escalate at such a high level is a true statement of our professionalism.
There is new legislation on street checks and training being delivered to officers. Does this affect how officers do their jobs?
It is training and it has had some impact. I think the biggest impact is the lack of knowing what can we do, what can’t we do. I have to say that I took the course just last week, that Staff Sergeant Clarke facilitated for me and it gave a clear understanding. What I like about it is that it talks about what it is and talks about what it is not. And, as our officers get more acquainted with regulation 58-16, and once they recognize the commanders are going to be supporting them and helping, I think it is a really good opportunity for our men and women to have more engagement as we move along.
Developing relationships is one of the keys to our success and you know not every engagement has to be recorded. The regulation covers just a sliver of what the day-to-day expectations of law enforcement requires – it’s a very small sliver. And I think the training piece talks to that and, I think, that adds to the comfort zone of officers so they can feel fully supported by us when they go out and communicate.
When you speak to the public what their expectations are of policing going forward, what are they telling you about how they want the Service to be modernized?
The one thing I thought that really resonated, it didn’t matter where we went across the city, the one thing that resonated the most is that they really wanted police officers to be more community centric. And so, you’ll find in the final report it will talk to community-centric approaches, enhancing Neighbourhood Officers. The community is saying we’ll develop a relationship with an officer and then that officer will be gone and we’ll never see that officer again. And, just as we started to build a trust and have meaningful conversations, they would go and they’d have to start over again and after a while there would be elements of frustration.
I think by listening to the public, it gives us an opportunity to truly define value. So, you will see the transformation piece when the final report gets released at the end of January. The three goals that it speaks to are: being where the public needs us most, developing stronger partnerships to enhance community safety and dealing with the complex needs of a large urban city. We’ve got 2.8 million people and there are complexities. When we talk about street gangs – no other city has the issue of street gangs with the same magnitude of Toronto (in Canada) so how do we tackle that, how do we work on that?
It’s less ownership and more leadership but also being where we need to be
But all the while, having a community-centric focus as well is equally important. You’ll find that having a better understanding of the social costs of everything we do, having a better understanding of investments that are made will play an equal part in policing. So I’m looking forward to this report and implementing it next year. I think it’s going to work well for a lot of our officers. There are a lot of calls that we go to that we shouldn’t be going to, so reducing the calls for service is going to be one of the factors. Putting officers where they need to be – looking at school crossing guards, last year we spent 3,100 hours of (officers directing) school crossing and that’s not effective, we’re not using our resources effectively in some of the things we’re doing.
We will start looking at connecting our officers so that they have that opportunity to be more efficient with their workload. Reducing the calls they go to, going to the calls they are trained to be going to, off-setting those calls through the city and through other agencies. It will give an opportunity for more proactive policing, it will give an opportunity for working with partners and having them become primary instead of us inheriting everything, which is what we do now. So I think it’s a really good and exciting opportunity ahead of us.
The modernization piece focuses on how can we efficiently enhance community safety. When there are synergies out there, when we have the opportunity to work with other agencies become force multipliers for us. So now, we don’t necessarily have to do all of the heavy lifting, then we can focus on other things. It’s less ownership and more leadership but also being where we need to be. I think, when it all plays out, you’re going to see a much better delivery model but it’s also going to reflect today’s pressures.
Why are we taking such a slow and steady approach to deploying body-worn cameras?
Well, for a multitude of reasons and I can tell you as fast as they’re being set up, they’re being taken down. If you the research and look at a lot of police agencies not recognizing the devil is in the detail. It’s one thing just to put a camera on someone, but if you look at the storage, the storage fees, how long you keep it for, what do you keep, redaction, what tools are available for redaction, and how expensive it is for redaction and how many staff do you need to work the redaction equipment – all of these things become a huge factors and they become multipliers and all of a sudden you have this monolith of something that is out of control.
So, when we took our approach, we first off did a pilot project, we did some fantastic work with the pilot project. Because, when we did the pilot project we were able to learn a lot of things. First and foremost, the public behaved better, secondly it gave a complete objective account of the encounter, which is good. We had complaints. When the body-worn camera was involved, each one of those complaints exonerated the police officers, which proved my theory that the men and women are by and large behaving the vast majority of the time. So, this is an opportunity to gain that trust back, so that’s number one. But number two is we have to be cognizant of the laws and if we don’t do things properly we’re wasting a lot of tax dollars. It’s one thing when you have a smaller agency with 10-15 people, you set it up, it doesn’t work, you pull it down. It’s another when you have 5,000.
So, being slower, being more methodical, looking at the equipment when we did the pilot project, it gave us an opportunity to know what we need and know what we don’t need. And, so, we’re in a much better place from a leveraging perspective, when it comes to going out there and looking for the product, we’re going to get, the product that is Toronto-centric, that is right for the men and women, that can deal with the climate of our country, that has durability and that will help enhance public trust.
What should the public expect from the Toronto Police regarding marijuana enforcement?
First and foremost, when it comes to the laws concerning marijuana, the simple rule is that, unless Health Canada gives you a licence, you cannot sell. And Health Canada does not sell to dispensaries, so all the dispensaries that are out right now are illegal. And, so, we will apprehend you if you are breaking the law. Now, Project Claudia, which was the project involved with the dispensaries only dealt with those making monetary in an illegal activity.
We weren’t dealing with users or consumers, just the dealers. We had concerns from a safety perspective because, first, when you’re buying the product you have no idea what’s in the product. You don’t know what the THC quantity is. There may be a number but they don’t know because it’s not regulated. So the product you’re purchasing now, from tests that we have seen, has fecal matter, has insecticide, has mould, so, people are ingesting this. And, second, the product you are purchasing is coming from the criminal element, because it’s not coming from the government, it’s not regulated. Third, we know that grow houses have caught on fire, so it becomes a safety factor for people who live in houses, or near houses that have grow houses that are producing it.
And, of course, the criminal element. When a criminally motivated person knows there is a location that has drugs and money, you’ve increased the chances of robbery. All of these factors come into play. If you’re not regulated, you’ve increased your chances of being arrested or, more importantly, harming yourself or harming others. So, we’ve kept it very simple when it comes to an enforcement piece.
What are your expectations, in the short- and long-term, regarding the Transformational Task Force final report due out at the end of January?
We’ve done several things already. We’ve amalgamated the Drug Squad with Organized Crime and we’ve pushed off a building. We’re working with the city at enhancing their 3-1-1 system so that they can start taking an active role with some calls. We’re not going to just step away. There has to be a hand-off because we want to make sure we’re not compromising on any safety. We’re doing intensive data research. We’ve got a tool that we’ve developed through Environics. We have taken all the data that we do as a police agency. What calls we’ve responded to, how long it’s taken us to respond to the calls, what are the calls, the numbers of calls, hours involved, and we now can use this tool and look at the calls that we’re not going to be going to anymore. We can plug in the data and actually look at what the results will be, what they’ll be at. It will give us an idea of what our response times will be to our priority calls, it will look at the manpower on the road at any given time, what are the peak times for priority calls, all of these things. And it’s a really exciting opportunity so I’m looking forward to working with the Toronto Police Association to figure out what we can do to make some of these changes.
And, rest assured, I would never sign off on anything if I thought I was compromising the safety of the community or the safety of the men and women who are out there putting it on the line. We have to get it right if we’re going to be successful. So, this is the first time ever. Anyone else that comes up with any other model, a lot of it is based on speculation. This is hard-core data. We can validate absolutely everything and I’m really excited at the opportunities that we have ahead.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I want to take this time to thank all the men and women in uniform and our civilians for an amazing 2016 and thank you so much for all that you’ve done in keeping Toronto the best and safest city to live in. Next year is going to be an exciting year, I’m looking forward to having a fantastic 2017, and I couldn’t have done anything without all of you. So, thank you, I hope you and your families, friends and loved ones have an amazing holiday season and all the best.
Thank you so much for all that you’ve done in keeping Toronto the best and safest city to live in