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G20 inquiry could be helpful, deputy chief says

Toronto Deputy Police Chief Keith Forde.

tim fraser The Globe and Mail

The public inquiry into police actions at the G20 has the potential to improve the service, the force may have to mend fences with the public over the handling of the summit and governments must seriously look at reining in policing costs - these were some of the observations made by Deputy Police Chief Keith Forde during a wide-ranging interview with The Globe and Mail ahead of his retirement later this summer.

In his five years as one of five deputy chiefs, the articulate and genial officer has been lauded for building bridges with the community and promoting equity within the force, giving him a unique perspective on the strain the G20 has put on the relationship between the public and the service.

"Whether the police were right or wrong, if the public believes we have done something wrong, we have fences to mend," he said. "You can't have the public saying 'we hate the police.' We just can't ignore them - we need the public."

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While he stressed that he couldn't say much about police actions during the summit because of the civilian review, he is the first high-ranking officer to speak publicly about the inquiry itself.

"What the service is going through now, it makes us a better police service. I have no problem with it," he said.

He was quick to defend the reputation of Chief Bill Blair, with whom he shares a close working relationship and a personal friendship of more than 25 years. It's fair to criticize the chief, he said, but he took exception to people calling his boss names.

"Over five years, he has never had problems, he has been popular with the public, and one thing happens and you call him a liar? It hurts. That goes to the core of who he is," he said.

The 63-year-old deputy chief discussed what he's learned in his 38 years of policing - from his early days on motorcycle patrol to going undercover to bust speed dealers in gay bars to becoming the first black man promoted to the top command.

Q: How did you join the force?

A: I always wanted to be a police officer. I applied to enter the Barbados police when I was 18, but my mother didn't want any of it. In 1969, I moved to Montreal. I was working as an invoice clerk and taking college classes. A friend picked me up and took me to Toronto. I spoke with the police force here and, to my surprise, they were interested in me. I entered as a naive kid. I can tell you, I saw marijuana for the first time at police college.

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Q: What was it like as a visible minority on the force in those days?

A: I was doing traffic enforcement, and when you're dealing with people like that, they'll say anything to you. I would say "I know you didn't mean that, you're just mad. The pen is mightier than the sword and I'm the one writing the summons!" But when I heard it from other police, it hurt more. I never handled it by running to the press, I never handled it by running to the superiors. I handled it one on one.

Q: What have you accomplished as deputy chief?

A: We've recruited a more representative work force. We've had three reviews looking at the barriers for promotion for women, first nations and visible minorities. The reason that male whites succeed in any organization is through networking, so we've created internal support networks for South Asians, blacks, Filipinos, women and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered employees.

Q: As someone who's made equity and community outreach priorities, what is your assessment of the TAVIS [Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy]squads, particularly as they've been accused of racial profiling in marginalized communities?

A: In trying to get the criminals, we something makes mistakes. We arrest people who shouldn't be arrested. The community mobilization piece is one that must go hand in hand with the police: We have to open up lines for dialogue and communication with the community. We have to be in partnership with the social organizations in those communities.

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Q: What was it like policing the G20?

A: What I get a lot of comfort from is that everyone went home to their wives or husbands or children. No one was hurt. If the barometer is safety, then we did a damn good job.

Q: Anything else you want to add?

A: In the 21st century, we're going to have to do things differently. Public policing is too expensive. If the force in Timmins gets a 6-per-cent raise, in Toronto they say 'we want a 7-per-cent raise' and so on. The government has to step in to control pay. The second thing is, we need to balance crime prevention with law enforcement. You want coppers to think: Every night, at [the same house]there is a domestic situation and I get called there, how do I stop this from happening again? You [need to]shift police thinking from total law enforcement to crime prevention.

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About the Author
Washington correspondent

Adrian Morrow covers U.S. politics from Washington, D.C. Previously he was The Globe's Ontario politics reporter. He's covered news, crime and sports for The Globe since 2010. He won the National Newspaper Award for politics reporting in 2016. More

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