Mark Saunders is receiving a one-year extension of his term as Toronto’s police chief.
The Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), which oversees the city’s force, announced on Tuesday that the chief’s appointment will be renewed until April 30, 2021. His current term was to end in April, 2020.
Chief Saunders will stay on to continue implementing the force’s modernization plan, according to TPSB chair Andy Pringle. “As the Service’s transformation progresses, the Board believes the stability in leadership brought by Chief Saunders is critical to continuing the progress that has been made thus far,” he said in a statement.
Appointed as Toronto’s chief of police in April, 2015, Chief Saunders will be only the second police chief in 40 years to serve more than a single five-year term, according to the TPSB. The first was Bill Blair, now the federal Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, who led the Toronto Police Service (TPS) from 2005 to 2015.
Throughout his first mandate, Chief Saunders has led the TPS through some of the most violent incidents in Toronto’s history such as last year’s Yonge Street van attack and Danforth shooting.
He has also been at the forefront of changes to the force: increasing the police’s use of technology and focusing resources on communities. He was tasked with implementing the TPS’s modernization plan, which included cost-saving measures, such as staffing cutbacks, which have sparked conflict between the chief and the union representing officers.
More officers are still leaving the force annually than are hired, according to Toronto Police Association president Mark McCormack.
Mr. McCormack said he would have preferred that a new chief be appointed next year, adding that Chief Saunders will have to contend with low officer morale and an increase in gun violence and gang activity in the city.
“How is he going to turn that around in a year? I don’t know. It would be nice to have some idea of a plan or what he intends to do to fix those critical issues before he leaves,” Mr. McCormack said.
The chief has also been criticized for his performance during the Bruce McArthur investigation when he blamed a lack of community assistance in part for the case’s slow resolution – remarks that angered the LGBTQ community. Mr. McArthur was eventually found to have murdered eight men with ties to Toronto’s gay village.
Toronto Mayor John Tory, who sits on the TPSB and has been a vocal supporter of Chief Saunders, said the chief can’t solve the city’s problems on his own, and shouldn’t be blamed for them either. The extension to his mandate, while short, will allow the chief to keep working on programs that are just now being implemented, such as the neighbourhood officer’s program, meant to curb gang activity in the city.
“There is more work to be done and I think the extended period of time that we’ve allowed the chief to do that will allow for a lot more of it to be done,” Mr. Tory said.
The chief has run into trouble communicating with the public, the mayor acknowledged, but he has confidence in Chief Saunders’ experience and understanding of the city.
The one-year extension will be the chief’s last, the TPSB said, calling it “the final phase of his mandate.”
Chief Saunders called the renewal an honour.
“I am humbled to be continuing in this role and I thank the members of the Toronto Police Service for their commitment to keeping our city safe and to building strong communities,” he said in a statement.
Chief Saunders has been a police officer in Toronto for more than 35 years. He has held various positions throughout that time, including as part of the urban street gang unit, drug squad and as unit commander of the homicide squad.
The renewal of his appointment comes as the federal and provincial governments are providing extra funds for programs to stem the rising tide of gun violence in the city.
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