The hunt for Toronto’s next police chief promises to be most extensive the city has ever conducted and holds the possibility of placing an outsider at the helm – a common practice elsewhere that would be unprecedented in modern Toronto history.
Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee and Mayor Rob Ford say they want a search spanning borders and oceans to find someone who can keep the force’s budget in line.
“It’s the best person that’s qualified for the job. I don’t care where they are from,” Mr. Ford said on Thursday, the day after the police board decided not to renew Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair’s contract. “I told them to search everywhere.”
The attitude squares with a pattern in the recruitment of big-city police chiefs. No longer must a chief rise through the ranks of a single agency, amassing scars and allies across myriad units before emerging as a leadership candidate.
In the United States, top chiefs can seem more like business chief executives with transferable skills and superstar status. Bill Bratton ran police forces in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, and was briefly touted to lead Scotland Yard before landing at the helm of the New York City Police Department for a second time late last year.
The same goes for Superintendent Garry McCarthy in Chicago, who previously worked in New York and Newark, N.J., and Charles Ramsey in Philadelphia, renowned for fixing systemic problems in Chicago and Washington, before becoming Philadelphia’s top cop in 2008.
In Canada, the chiefs in Calgary and Edmonton both came from the RCMP. Smaller Ontario forces regularly pilfer from the ranks of Toronto Police Services for executive talent.
Amalgamated Toronto, meanwhile, has never really gazed beyond its own area code for a leader. Julian Fantino, who came from London, Ont., ran the force from 1999 to 2005, but it was more of a homecoming than a departure, because he had spent 23 years policing on Toronto streets.
“Toronto has never gone outside and they should,” a senior provincial police official said on the condition of anonymity. “I don’t want to slam the current deputies, but if you’re going to break the cycle, the current way of doing business in Toronto, they have to go outside.”
After nine frustrating years in which Mr. Mukherjee has politely nudged Chief Blair to trim costs and reorganize his troops, the force’s budget has done nothing but grow – from $689-million in 2005 to $1.1-billion this year. About 90 per cent of TPS spending is on fixed-labour costs, but board members have long argued that many positions do not require expensive uniformed officers. “I’d like to see someone who can introduce more high tech, because the basic expenses of the police force is personnel, and everywhere in the world today, people are trying to replace personnel costs with strategic investments in high tech,” Toronto Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly said.
While Mr. Ford has no direct say in the search for Chief Blair’s replacement, his time as mayor has coincided with a surge in foreign-born leaders holding lofty positions across the City of Toronto.
With Britain-born Andy Byford running the Toronto Transit Commission, Stephen Buckley, from Philadelphia, taking over transportation services, and Gene Jones, a veteran of several U.S. housing agencies, hired (and fired) at Toronto Community Housing, the municipality has shown an appetite for foreign leaders.
The Jones example – as well as that of William Elliot, a career civil servant whose tenure running the RCMP was marked by a divisive management style and an exodus of top talent – shows hiring outside is risky. In policing, the unique nuances of the Criminal Code and local politics would present a giant barrier to a non-national.
If the job posting does manage to attract an able crop of international applicants, the board can thank one man: Chief Blair.
“He’s put Toronto on the map as far as we’re concerned,” said Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a Washington-based think-tank that has conducted executive searches for virtually every major police department in the U.S. “For things he’s done in areas like social media, developing use-of-force policies, bringing in an independent judge to study problems, Toronto is seen as leader.”
Of course, there is a daunting asterix beside all these hiring plans in the form of the municipal election set for Oct. 27. Mr. Wexler said a proper search involving community consultations and focus groups would take about four months. The timing means the board’s composition – along with its zeal for transformation – could change considerably before a search is complete. “I think that the board that would be formed next year should be the board that makes the choice,” Mr. Kelly said, “because they’re the ones that would have to be in a supervisory position with that new chief.”
Chief Blair’s contract expires in April, 2015.
Follow us on Twitter:,