Mark Saunders, newly sworn-in police chief, vows to embrace technology, improve community relations

Mark Saunders is officially sworn in as Toronto's police chief, taking over the role during a turbulent time between the force and some minority communities.

'This is so surreal,' said Toronto's 1st black head of police

Mark Saunders officially sworn in as Toronto police chief

7 years ago
Duration 2:43
Ceremony took place at police headquarters 2:43

Mark Saunders was officially sworn in today as Toronto's police chief.

The 52-year-old veteran of the force and unanimous choice of the Police Services Board in April takes over from Bill Blair.

"This is so surreal," said Saunders, speaking for the first time as head of the force.

The married father of four is the city's first black police chief, stepping into the role during a turbulent time between the force and some minority communities.

Blair oversaw the implementation of the city's controversial carding policy, which allows officers to collect information from residents, even if they have committed no offence.

Newly sworn-in Chief Mark Saunders spoke Wednesday about the criticisms a police chief gets in Toronto, saying, 'you've got to be thick skinned' and 'you've got to love the community you're sworn to protect.' (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Saunders spoke about improving police interaction with the community.

"Complacency is never acceptable," he said. "'Good enough' simply isn't good enough."

Saunders spoke of courtesy and respect in police, but said technology would make the difference.

He called the new Toronto police pilot project to wear body cameras an "unprecedented" move. Although he acknowledged concerns about the cameras, including privacy, he is optimistic about them.

"We will get it right," he said. "We will look at other aspects of technology, too."

Saunders talked about traffic cameras, which "never take a day off," and battling increasing cyber crimes.

Inspired by his parents

Saunders cited his parents as his inspiration.

One of six children, his childhood had some hardships, he said. But he also recalled watching his older sister, Yvonne Saunders-Mondesire, a former running champion, competing in two Olympic Games in the 1970s and winning a Commonwealth gold medal.

Saunders praised Blair for his guidance, and said the outgoing chief gave him two pieces of advice.

"Number one, you've got to be thick skinned," said Saunders about the criticisms a police chief gets in Toronto. And, "number two, you've got to love the community you're sworn to protect."

Blair, who gave brief remarks before and after Saunders spoke, gave the new police chief more advice during the ceremony.

"Mark, these are your people," said Blair of all the police officers in attendance. "Take care of them, and godspeed."

Mayor John Tory, left, applauds with Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee, right, as Mark Saunders, centre, is introduced as the new chief of police. (CBC)

Saunders recalled looking down from the balconies at police headquarters and seeing former chief Julian Fantino handing off the role to Blair, never once thinking he would one day be chief.

Saunders has had a 32-year career with Toronto police, working with the force's gang and drug squads and overseeing the homicide division — one of the largest in Canada.