The on-going controversy surrounding policing in Toronto and most democracies in the world, prompted Milénio Stadium to approach one of the most celebrated and controversial police officers in the Toronto Police Service to provide an overview into the current state of law enforcement in the GTA and his hopes for the future of peace enforcement despite the constant barrage of recent criticism.
Ron Taverner is superintendent of 12, 23 and 31 Divisions of the City of Toronto. He joined the police service in 1967 and has been providing protection to this city for the last 53 years in various positions. Mr. Taverner Is 73 years of age and Milénio Stadium asked him if he was ready to retire.
Ron Taverner: I have no plans to retire as retiring is stopping doing something you love. There’s a lot of work to be done and I plan to continue being part of the process of making this city better.
Milénio Stadium: How have you seen policing change over the years as your career has evolved in this city?
RT: There have been some negatives and positives in the changes on how police work is done. Changes in laws and reforms on how we deal with the public, particularly in domestic situations have become complex and challenging. There was a time when one policeman would go alone, talk to the people, work things out and leave. Today if there any signs of violence or abuse, police are obligated to arrest and charge individuals. There is no choice.
MS: Recent deaths at the hands of police appear to be related to mental health issues. Are police trained to deal with these types of situations?
RT: Police are continually being trained in all aspects of societal issues, including mental illness but dealing with mental health is very complex. When calls are received, we try to assign officers who are familiar in dealing with domestic situations but it’s dependent on the nature of the call. If there are weapons or violence involved, the type of response may change. The safety of the citizen is a priority, but we never know what will confront us when we arrive at the location.
MS: Policing in Toronto with all its ethnic pockets and requirements based on cultural needs must present specific demands. Are there sufficient officers of different ethnic backgrounds that will attend to calls from specific ethnicities?
RT: The Police Service has had a policy of hiring officers that represent the community and continue to prioritize the hiring of officers to address deficiencies. lt’s challenging but we are making good progress. Law enforcement is often frustrating because after arrests are made, bail is granted almost immediately, and this has far reaching effects in controlling crime. Toronto is a diverse city with cultural issues in each community and many come from societies where cultural insensitivity, hate crimes and racism is a way of life.
MS: The face of police officers today is different than when I arrived in Canada in 1970. Most officers were white, and mostly men of a certain stature. Much different today.
RT: Changes are the result of the complexities within this city and how it evolved. To represent the composition of this city we have hired more women and minorities. We need to do more community and neighbourhood based policing to build a dialogue with the communities. Officers are required to spend the first four years after graduation in neighbourhood policing to get an understanding of how people live within those communities and have direct interaction with the citizens.
MS: There are many who are calling for defunding and reforming the police service and i structure. How do you see the approaches being proposed?
RT: I am open to reform and we can’t bury our heads in the sand that problems don’t exist. We have to correct mistakes by officers with better training and understand the vision to truly want to serve. To get there, changes are required on the way services are delivered. l’ m against defunding because it will reduce the number of officers on the street. Perhaps training nurses or social workers to send into situations with a police officer to de-escalate situations is a good start in the process.
MS: ln view of the current conditions with criticisms of police officers and their work, are officers performing their jobs with fear?
RT: Officers still have to serve the community. They have been trained to deal with every situation and will have to use the training to deal with issues. If officers have the feeling that they are not supported by the community, they start second guessing themselves but at the end of the day they have to be effective and compassionate in order to protect the community. Discipline and oversight are very important, because the SIU, which is an independent investigative body, will investigate allegations of any complaints against the police.
MS: What do police officers need to do to provide a more effective service?
RT: Continuous training, body cameras and the provision of funding to deal with the modern social issues. Officers are not against cameras and videos always tell a story. Officers need to be professional in their approach to their job. Bad apples within the police force have to be weeded out and it’s disgusting any time they are charged with a crime and found guilty. Bad behaviour by an officer tarnishes the image of every officer.
MS: The City of Toronto is looking for a new Chief. What qualifications does he need to address current and future requirements, and should it be someone from the City of Toronto?
RT: I think a new Chief should be from the City of Toronto as he will have a better understanding of the feel of this community. He has to have a vision and understand the make-up and progression of change. Embracing technology and how to deal with people and training is important. The best person for the job should have a vision and the support of the community and politicians to make this city a place to be enjoyed so we can move forward with our lives.
MS: Final words…
RT: No plans to change or retire. I enjoy my job and serving the people of this City. I plan to stay as long as I can make things better.
MS: Thank you Mr. Taverner.