Toronto police action plan calls for major changes for force

Toronto's police force is turning to technology to guide its massive modernization effort, while bolstering its human resources in an effort to change policing culture in this city.

Police division boundaries shifting, officers getting new roles in sweeping overhaul

Chief Mark Saunders said he hopes a series of sweeping changes to the force will improve its relationship with the public. (John Rieti/CBC)

Toronto's police force is turning to technology to guide its massive modernization effort, while bolstering its human resources in an effort to change policing culture in this city.

The force outlined its plans in a new document, called Action Plan: The Way Forward, which was presented to the Toronto Police Services Board at its Thursday meeting and is also available online. Today was also the first time frontline officers had a chance to see the document the Transformational Task Force has been working on for months.

Chief Mark Saunders said many of the changes were guided by public consultations, and when they're implemented — which may not happen until 2019, in some cases — they'll save money and bring the force closer to the public.

"The public will understand that we've listened to them," Saunders told reporters.

The changes include, but are not limited to:

  • Embedding officers in neighbourhoods for three years at a time.
  • Equipping police officers with smart devices, including so-called "eNotebooks" that will allow them to spend more time out of their vehicles and stations.
  • Reorganizing "outdated" divisional boundaries so they better line up with the city's neighbourhoods. This will also result in closing some stations.
  • Enhancing human resources efforts to make sure officers have "emotional intelligence" and that when a hiring freeze ends in 2019, the force hires in a way that reflects the city's diversity.

Saunders also reiterated the need to change the culture that surrounds police work, though he didn't provide specific examples of what behaviour he finds problematic. The report does recommend keeping a running scorecard, to be filled out by both the public and police, that Saunders said will identify issues.

Dozens of people angered by the video staged a protest during the police board meeting. (Ivan Arsovski/CBC)

Moments after the police board's public meeting began, however, a group of demonstrators interrupted the proceedings to protest a recent incident — captured on film — where a suspect was twice hit with a stun gun while an officer told the man videotaping that the suspect was going to spit on him and give him AIDS.

'This is not a budget drill,' Saunders says

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack was also quick to blast the new action report, saying officers feel cut out of the process. He also said he believes the changes are being made to save money, not to improve the quality of policing in the city, and also questioned what the chief meant by police culture. 

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack says frontline officers were left out of the process when the force's new action plan was developed. (John Rieti/CBC)

"What aspect of police culture are we talking about?" he asked.

McCormack said his officers are open to some of the changes in the report but will refuse to jeopardize public safety.  

There are some $100 million worth of savings identified in the report, with the potential for more in the coming years if police can find efficiencies. But Saunders said the plan is foremost about changing the way police operate.

"This is not a budget drill," he said.

Toronto police's budget topped $1 billion for the first time last year, though it has gone down slightly in this year's proposed city budget. The report notes police will eventually need major capital investments from the city.

Mayor John Tory feels the proposal isn't ready to be funded (John Rieti/CBC)

Mayor John Tory called the report a "huge step forward," for police.

As for future costs, the mayor said: "they will be what they are," but said he believes the investment in technology — whether its body-worn cameras or smart devices for officers — will pay itself back and benefit taxpayers. 

Neighbourhood approach anchors plan

The action plan calls for Toronto police officers to be divided among three groups: neighbourhood officers, priority response officers who respond to urgent incidents and an investigative support unit.

Police will also be more careful about what type of officer responds to what call, so as not to squander resources or leave officers scrambling "call-to-call."

Staff Sgt. Gregory Watts said the neighbourhood officers will be walking the modern equivalent of a beat.

"It may look like a step back in time," a smiling Watts said. "It worked then, it will work now."

Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle, left, said the board will discuss the report in more detail at its next meeting. (John Rieti/CBC)

Saunders said keeping officers in communities for three years at a time will help the public build trust.

The report notes that the public wants to see "more consistent actions and behaviours" from officers, especially when it comes to how they're dealing with racialized youth and other vulnerable groups in the city.

Officers should also be "less aggressive, less judgemental and more inclusive," the report says.

Culture change

While neither Saunders nor the speakers from the Transformational Task Force singled out specific problems with police culture, they did refer to "gaps" that exist in some areas and suggested some human resources changes may improve that.

The force's HR team will re-evaluate how it measures officers' performance, the report says. Senior officers and managers, meanwhile, will also get so-called 360-degree reviews, so they better understand how to support their colleagues.

Both the force and community, the report says, will have "high expectations for interaction, empathy, collaboration and engagement" from officers.

There is a force-wide hiring freeze at the moment, but the report calls for human resources to play a key role when it comes to hiring in 2019. The report said it wants officers with "emotional intelligence" who are as diverse as the city they police.

In the immediate future, the public can expect the police to release more details about the timelines involved changes called for in the action plan.

Officers, meanwhile, will also be get the chance for "intense consultation" in the coming months.