Why the search for Toronto's new police chief will be longest, most comprehensive in city's history

James Ramer will be Toronto's longest-serving interim police chief. The city is in the midst of the longest search for a top cop in its history and it's happening at a time when policing is at a crossroads.

Toronto has rarely had an interim chief. The last one served only 5 weeks

Toronto Interim Police Chief James Ramer attends a news conference at Toronto Police Headquarters, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020. Ramer is expected to serve well into 2021 as the Toronto Police Service embarks on the longest search for a chief in its history. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

It's the longest search for a top cop in Toronto's history and it's happening at a time when policing is at a crossroads in Canada's largest city with a wide range of reforms on the horizon.

When James Ramer was appointed interim chief by the Toronto Police Services Board last June, history may have suggested his time at the helm of Canada's largest municipal police service might be brief. After all, the last time the city needed an interim chief was 2005. The stop-gap measure lasted just five weeks before a new leader was hired.

That won't be the case for Ramer.

Ryan Teschner, the executive director of the Toronto Police Services Board, told CBC News on Friday the announcement of a new chief is far from imminent.  

"Chief Ramer's time as Chief of Police will continue up to the date that the Board appoints the next Chief of Police for the Toronto Police Service," he said in an emailed statement.

"I fully expect this process to conclude in 2021." 

Toronto lawyer Selwyn Pieters worries the long search for a new chief will postpone what he describes as 'promised change.' (CBC)

The search comes at a critical time as Toronto Police are adopting major reforms, and lawyer Selwyn Pieters worries the lengthy hunt for a new chief might delay what he describes as "promised change."

"The expectation was that this process would have concluded within months following the June resignation of the chief of police," he told CBC News.

"We have a lot of issues going on in this city."

Search for chief comes amid proposed changes for police

This summer, the Toronto Police Services Board agreed to 81 measures aimed at boosting police accountability and transparency. The board acted at a time when the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked demonstrations worldwide and added new momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Closer to home, the death last May of 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet, who fell to her death from her balcony after Toronto police officers were called to her west-end apartment, prompted renewed criticism of how police handle mental health calls.

The measures include commitments to build better relationships with marginalized communities, improve ways police deal with mentally ill people, implement new use of force guidelines and to be transparent about how the next chief, who'll be expected to usher in many of the changes, will be selected.

"The Board has heard very clearly the calls from the public and from Toronto City Council that this time, more than ever, a wide-ranging approach to public consultation on the skills, attributes and vision of the next Chief of Police is vital," Teschner's statements reads.

"The Board recognizes that this process must be transparent, independent and inspire public confidence."

Police services board spending $150K to find new chief

Ramer was tapped for the interim position after former chief Mark Saunders unexpectedly announced he was stepping down in June.

Transitions are often announced months in advance giving the board plenty of time to prepare. The last time the city needed an interim chief was in 2005, when the board declined to renew Julian Fantino's contract.

A search for his replacement began, and former cop Mike Boyd was coaxed out of retirement to assume the top job temporarily. Five weeks later, Boyd returned to retirement when Bill Blair was appointed as chief. 

But the process to find the next chief will play out longer than any in Toronto police history, partly because Saunders resigned with eight months still in his term, catching everyone by surprise. 

Former Toronto police chief Mark Saunders retired unexpectedly earlier this year with eight months left on his six-year term, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. (Michael Wilson/CBC)

Since the search for a new chief began, the board has made significant financial and planning commitments.

In October, it agreed to hire Environics Analytics — a Toronto based data and research firm — to conduct consultations with various community groups and stakeholders as part of the hiring process.

At next Tuesday's Toronto Police Services Board meeting, board members will be asked to approve a $75,000 contract with Boyden Canada — a firm specializing in finding potential candidates for executive leadership positions.

Board meeting documents show that, in all, the process is estimated to cost $150,000.

The board gave Ramer the interim job after Saunders, who had eight months left on his six-year term, said he wanted to spend more time with his family. 

At the time, Ramer said he would be a temporary placeholder until a new chief was found,. He's sticking to that plan, according to Allison Sparkes, director of communications for Toronto Police.

"Chief Ramer has been consistent and very clear that he will not be competing for the position," she tells CBC News.

The job pays about $350,000 a year. 

Toronto Mayor John Tory, who sits on the board, says while it may take awhile to find a new top cop, Ramer's role won't be extended any longer than required.

"There has been absolutely no discussion whatsoever of extending interim Chief Ramer's appointment, formal or informal," wrote his spokesperson, Don Peat, in an email to CBC News.

"He is doing an excellent job as interim chief and the process of seeking a permanent Chief is underway, starting with unprecedented public consultation." major changes are proposed for policing in Toronto. 


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