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“Toronto police moving quickly to combat anti-Black racism”

In a message published in The Star, Chief Mark Saunders, Toronto Police Service, said.

The tragic incidents of the past few weeks, and too many similar incidents in the past, should make all of us angry. I am angry, as a Black man, a father, a husband, a brother, a son and police chief. There are no words to describe the anguish of the lived experiences of some members of our Black, racialized and vulnerable communities. I have experienced it myself.

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders

Police services and politicians talk in abstract about the importance of public trust. It is not possible for police to function without trust. We have a duty not just to serve and protect without bias, but to care, to strive for excellence, and to change when needed.

We must move to action. It’s a reality that many are grasping with new urgency. The people of Toronto need to know that their police service has been working for years to prepare for this moment.

I rarely make comparisons to other entities, but these are different times, so let me say the following: we are the fourth largest municipal policing service in North America and we are leaders in officer training and service delivery. Policing in Canada is different than in the United States, in civilian oversight, recruitment, training and transparency, and we are fortunate as citizens in a large, growing urban city, for that.

The Toronto Police Service has implemented an enormous change agenda in modernizing service delivery. The 2017 Transformational Task Force was a game-changer. Civilians and officers debated and decided what policing should look like in Toronto. We came away with a singular focus: our communities. They are at the core of everything we do. I believe passionately that our Service gets it right most of the time. We choose guardians, not warriors. Good policing starts with hiring the right people, but that’s not enough.

We invest in training excellence that is holistic and never ends. Toronto Police Service officers undergo annual training throughout their careers. We do this to ensure they are equipped — mentally, emotionally and physically — to de-escalate, to help, and yes, to serve and protect. I would stack our training against any service in North America.

The Toronto Police Service receives almost 2 million calls for service annually. Are we right every time? No. But we do hold ourselves accountable. Our members want to do right by our city, by our colleagues, and by our families.

We are open to continued change and growth. With regards to anti-Black racism, I want to share four areas we are already investing in:

First, the creation of an Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights Unit. In 2019, we created a new unit to help us to evolve, to strive for bias-free services, and to offer all members guidance to learn and practice diversity and inclusion.

We hired subject matter experts who bring deep expertise in equity, inclusion, human rights, research and community engagement. They have advanced education and professional and lived experience. They are guiding the implementation of best practices and informing the work that we do in our communities, and the supports and training we deliver to our members.

Second, our Race-Based Data Strategy. This strategy doesn’t have a policing comparator in North American and will fundamentally change how we deliver policing.

We are collecting and analyzing race-based data and information, including about our public interactions and our members’ perceptions of those interactions. We will analyze it to identify systemic racism and trends and to develop mitigation strategies and evolve training.

Third, our Race Base-Based Data In-Person Training. Dr. Grace-Edward Galabuzi, an internationally recognized expert, is helping us develop a multi-modal training curriculum informed by community members and stakeholders, and includes input from the Anti-Racism Directorate, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of the Attorney General and the Wellesley Institute. Every member will take this training. It will cover historic and systemic racialization, systemic racial profiling and will inform our members and further protect our communities.

And fourth, our Anti-Black Racism Training. We are in year two of a best-in-class training program that goes beyond what most public sector organizations have offered. It was developed with academics, external experts, community partners, and our own members. We are learning what anti-Black racism is, about implicit and explicit bias, and about the experiences that affect the Black community in relation to systemic discrimination and policing. Implicit bias training is mandatory for our officers.

Will we stop here? No.

The Black community is telling us who they are, and who we are. We are committed to listening and working together with the public and governments for change.

Mark Saunders

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