2013 in review: Difficult year for Toronto police

This wasn't an easy year for the Toronto police: an officer was killed on duty, another was charged with murder and the chief ended up investigating the mayor.

Mayor probed, fatal streetcar shooting, Const. Zivcic dies after on-duty crash

It wasn't an easy year for Toronto Police Services Chief Bill Blair. He was forced to answer questions about an investigation by his department that involved Mayor Rob Ford. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

Whether it was friction between Mayor Rob Ford and his chief of police, an officer killed on duty, or ongoing questions about how officers handle armed confrontations, 2013 was a year of challenges for Toronto's police force.

Here's a look at police stories that made news this year.

Richard Kachkar found not criminally responsible 

There was never any doubt about what happened on the January 2011 morning Sgt. Ryan Russell died. Richard Kachkar, erratically driving a stolen snow plow, struck and killed the officer on a downtown street.

Christine Russell said her husband "deserved a lot better" after a jury ruled Richard Kachkar not criminally responsible for fatally running over Sgt. Ryan Russell with a stolen snowplow. (CBC)

In March a jury ruled Kachkar not criminally responsible for his actions due to mental illness. Kachhar remains in a psychiatric facility.

Outside the court after the ruling came down, Russell's widow Christine said the verdict left her "heartbroken and disappointed."

"I believe that Ryan deserved a lot better than this," she said.

Rob Ford investigation

In the spring Toronto police Chief Bill Blair was in the uncomfortable position of investigating his city's mayor. It began in mid-May when stories appeared reporting that a video exists that shows the mayor smoking crack cocaine. Accompanying those stories was a now-infamous picture showing Ford standing beside young men police describe as known gang members. One of the men, Anthony Smith, was gunned down in March outside a downtown nightclub.

A police investigation into guns, gangs and drugs already underway resulted in a series of raids in June. Addresses searched in that sweep include the house where the crack video was allegedly shot.

Toronto Police Service released documents in October that show surveillance photos of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, left. ( Toronto Police Service/Canadian Press)

Ford was not charged but court documents released in November showed that the mayor, while under police surveillance, held clandestine meetings with his friend and occasional driver Alexander Lisi, who now faces drug trafficking charges. The pair also exchanged multiple phone calls in the days after the crack video story broke. Lisi is also charged with extortion for what police say are his efforts to acquire the crack smoking video.

The conflict between Ford and Blair ramped up on Halloween, when Blair essentially confirmed that police had a video consistent with news story descriptions of the crack tape. Blair also said he was "disappointed" that such a video existed.

Five days later, Coun. Doug Ford called for Blair to step aside, saying his comments about the investigation showed bias against his brother.

"[Blair] believes he's the judge, jury and executioner," said Doug Ford.

Hours after that interview, Rob Ford admitted to a scrum of reporters that he has smoked crack cocaine "probably in one of my drunken stupors."

In a Dec. 9 interview with Conrad Black, Ford said he's not happy with Blair. In the same interview, Ford alleged the investigation against him was "political" and related to the mayor's call to find savings in the police budget.

As the city began its budget process, some councillors wondered aloud if the relationship between Blair and Ford had soured so badly that the mayor should skip deliberations on the police budget.

A council vote has since stripped Ford of many of his powers, leaving him mayor in little more than name. Ford has vowed to seek re-election in October, so the two men will have to somehow continue to work through this strained relationship, at least for another 10 months. 

In a year-end interview with CBC News, Blair said he stands by his words.

"I don't regret it at all. First of all, that investigation ... wasn't focused on any individual. It was focused on criminal conduct. On the day in which I was announcing the recovery of certain evidence and certain charges that were being laid, I was meticulously careful not to inappropriately disclose any information about that investigation or the evidence that could compromise any future prosecution," he said.

"I was also asked a question for my opinion as a citizen. I would not have answered that if I'd felt it in any way would jeopardize our ongoing investigations or prosecutions. It was simply an honest answer."

Officer charged in Sammy Yatim streetcar shooting

A pleasant summer evening turned tragic when police shot and killed 18-year-old Sammy Yatim aboard a streetcar on Dundas Street West near Trinity Bellwoods Park. Yatim was holding a knife but videos of the shooting taken by people on the street and posted online triggered widespread outrage.

The fatal shooting of Sammy Yatim, 18, was stirred debate about police use of force. (CBC)

The footage showed one officer firing nine shots at Yatim, the final six coming after he'd already crumpled to the floor. At the time of the shooting, the streetcar was stopped and had been emptied of passengers. Yatim was standing atop the stairs near the front of the streetcar and appeared to be taunting the officers, when an officer fired through the open door. After the shooting, officers also deployed a Taser on Yatim as he lay mortally wounded.

Const. James Forcillo, the officer alleged to have fired all nine shots, was charged with second-degree murder within weeks of the shooting. Family members were relieved at news of the charge but questions remain about how police deal with emotionally disturbed persons. The use-of-force debate was stirred again when police shot an 18-year-old at Queen Station on Dec. 13. The man survived that shooting, which is being probed by Ontario's Special Investigations Unit.

"Very quickly, like thousands of others, I was able to view the videos that were uploaded," Blair said in the year-end interview.

"I understood the enormous public concern that those events raised and we've had a responsibility there, first of all, to assist and cooperate in the SIU investigation, and that was done ... But I have an additional responsibility to ensure that my people have the best possible direction, supervision, training and equipment to do their job."

Const. John Zivcic dies after on-duty crash

Const. John Zivcic died of injuries suffered in a car crash that happened while he was on duty. (Toronto Police Service)

On Dec. 2 Const. John Zivcic, 34, died in hospital two days after his police cruiser collided with another car while responding to a call about an impaired driver. His brother Tom delivered a moving eulogy to his brother at a full police funeral, expressing his pride that his brother's heart and kidneys were donated. "John made Christmas for three families," he said.

Blair said he hopes the officer's death can serve as a warning.

"I think, if can good can be drawn from John's tragic death, I think it's to remind all of our officers and remind citizens about the importance of wearing a seatbelt."