Toronto's next chief of police will be Mark Saunders, a veteran officer who will become the first black leader of the country's largest municipal force.
The new chief was chosen by the Police Services Board after final interviews Friday, multiple sources told The Globe and Mail. His appointment was made public Monday morning at a news conference at police headquarters to be attended by Mayor John Tory and board chair Alok Mukherjee.
He replaces Chief Bill Blair, who is retiring at the end of the week after a decade in his post.
Deputy Chief Saunders, 52, is viewed as a cop's cop, having taken three decades to move through the ranks. He has headed up some of the toughest squads within it, including the homicide division, drug and gang units and the emergency task force. He led the response to the 2009 shutdown of the Gardiner Expressway by Tamil protesters and the 2012 Occupy Toronto demonstrations.
Born in England to a Jamaican family, he immigrated to Canada as a child and decided to become a police officer because he "did not want to be stuck behind a desk," he told the Caribbean Camera newspaper in 2012. He was celebrated for being the first black officer to head up some high-profile units, but said he was "a police officer first.
"Yes, colour does play a factor, but the primary purpose of a police officer is to extract information," he said at the time. "And that's the first hurdle you have to overcome."
In his 32nd year with the Toronto Police Service, he is currently in charge of Specialized Operations Command, where he oversees 1,200 police officers and 164 civilian members, with a budget of $175-million.
Deputy Chief Saunders said recently in an interview with The Globe that knowing the inner workings of high-pressure operations would let him know, as chief, where he could afford and couldn't afford to make cuts.
"It's the greatest police service in the world," he said. "I've never thought of going anywhere else. … And the service is moving in a new direction, which is a direction that I think is going to be very positive for this city, for the taxpayers."
The selection of the city's next chief has been widely watched and highly contested.
Also among the short list of candidates was Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, a favourite of many outside the force, Deputy Chief Michael Federico, and as The Globe and Mail reported, Dale McFee, a trailblazing former police chief from Saskatchewan.
The new chief will take over the force at a time of high public pressure on two points: cost and race relations.
After years of quickly escalating costs, the province's Sunshine List showed this year that more than half of all Toronto officers made at least $100,000. The police board stressed in their job ad for the new chief that limiting spending would be key. Board members said they were looking for pitches of how to reorganize the force, and for someone willing to make unpopular changes.
A police practice that has long drawn anger from Toronto's black communities has drawn a new wave of public debate in the past few months. Police have been criticized for "carding," or questioning people who aren't suspected of a crime, with many saying they're more likely to stop non-white Torontonians. After a changed and limited policy was designed by the board last year, most of those changes have now been reversed in an updated policy finalized last week, which would allow police to resume the practice largely as they had been doing.
Editor's Note: The original newspaper version and an earlier digital version of this story should have attributed the quotation "Yes, colour does play a factor, but the primary purpose of a police officer is to extract information. And that's the first hurdle you have to overcome" to his 2012 interview with Caribbean Camera. This digital version has been clarified.