The task force charged with modernizing the Toronto Police Service and taming its billion-dollar budget says the service also needs to implement a sweeping set of new initiatives to bring about a "culture change."
The Transformational Task Force, made up both of outside advisers and police brass, released its final report on Thursday, calling for a massive overhaul to the way Toronto's officers are hired, trained, evaluated and deployed.
Among its recommendations are calls for a "multi-year plan to achieve a police service that mirrors the broad diversity of Toronto" and a policy that would assign officers to a neighbourhood for a minimum of three years, in order to focus on "neighbourhood-centred" policing. It also calls for "scorecards" that would measure public opinion of the police and other measures to try to ensure the force actually implements the recommendations.
One of the task force's external members, Trillium Health chief executive officer Michelle DiEmanuele, said she is confident that the police are committed to change: "This is not a report that we want sitting on the shelf."
The recommendations come just as the force deals with controversies over its strained relationships with both the city's black and gay communities. Last week, members of Pride Toronto voted to boot police floats out of the annual Pride Parade, as demanded by the activist group Black Lives Matter. And this week, a video surfaced of an officer making comments about HIV and wrongly threatening to seize the phone of a bystander filming an arrest.
Thursday's final task force report expands on a longer list of interim recommendations released in June. Then, the task force called for massive changes to police operations, including the redrawing of district boundaries and the merging of some police stations, the better use of new mobile technology to allow for "connected" officers on the beat and the possible outsourcing of some services now under the force's purview, such as court security and parking enforcement. The June report also calls for an end to the anti-gang squad TAVIS, the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, a unit the task force said had "unintended impacts" on "racialized youth who felt unfairly targeted" and undermined trust in the police.
The task force, chaired by Police Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board chairman Andrew Pringle, was announced by Mayor John Tory in late 2015, as criticism of the supposedly politically untouchable and growing billion-dollar police budget intensified.
The task force is already responsible for a three-year police moratorium on hiring and promotions, which is to save the force $60-million as older officers retire and are not replaced. The task force has also said that another $40-million can be saved through outsourcing and better management.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said the freeze on hiring and promotion will result in 500 fewer officers when the force is already short-staffed and in a "morale crisis," with officers "bouncing from call to call."
He also raised questions about the report's call for changes to police culture, and said the exercise appears to be more about budget-cutting: "They haven't even defined what aspect of police culture we are talking about. What I am talking about is having sufficient police officers out there to provide a safe environment, safe neighbourhoods."
Chief Saunders, who must now begin consultations with Mr. McCormack and the police association on many of the task force recommendations, said the changes are not driven by cost savings, but by a need to "modernize" the police service and make better use of its officers.
For example, by having civilians take down details of a theft report, uniformed officers are freed up for higher-priority calls or "pro-active" neighbourhood policing, the chief said: "This isn't about softer policing, it's about smarter policing."