Earlier this month, national and international journalists weighed in with their impressions on the appointment of Mark Saunders, Toronto’s new Jamaican-Canadian Chief of Police. Given the multi-layered complexity and scope of responsibility of such an important and far reaching senior public-facing position for Canada’s most diverse and populous city, it goes without saying that the principals, Toronto’s Mayor and the Toronto Police Services Board, responsible for reaching the final decision for the new Chief’s appointment, were required to do so with soberness, foresight and unanimity.
It is interesting to note that some of the Board members at first, maintained different stances on who should be the next Chief of Police; which in and of itself was nothing unusual. In fact it indicates an environment where differing ideas are allowed to be expressed. Afterwards, some who were questioned, stated their final decision was unanimous. If there were any reservations, none were publicly forthcoming.
The full spectrum of expectations, realistic and otherwise, will now come to bear on Chief Saunders from many directions; most likely all at once. His first and foremost concern will be the police officers under his direct charge. It is an unfortunate, yet forgone conclusion that some elements of the public do not trust, or have any love lost for the new Chief’s police force. This belief has been established partly through some of the graphic and unfortunate incidents between police and suspects that have been shown via the media. This influential perspective has also been augmented by the recent troubling police visuals south of the border. But let us not for a moment lose sight of the fact that a percentage of those who see Toronto’s police as the enemy, are part of the darker elements of our society that substantiate the very need for the existence of our police.
One can only imagine what it must be like being a member of a police force; not only the Toronto Police, but the OPP, RCMP, or any of the many Municipal detachments across Canada. Whether as a veteran of many years or a freshly minted recruit, the difficulties inherent in carrying out their responsibilities will always be compounded by the perceptions and expectations of the very public they are required to serve. In Chief Saunders’case, he will have to navigate and balance the crucial course of effectively equipping, rebuilding and maintaining morale among his staff, while at the same time addressing such issues as the very real stigma of profiling, engendered through the current policy of Carding. He will have to deal with what is seen by some in the public as itinerant unchecked police abuse of power, while ensuring his police force operates at peak efficiency through strict rules of engagement, which are in place to keep both the public or even any alleged perpetrator as safe as possible. At first blush, with so many vested parties holding him under a microscope, the tasks that lay ahead are unquestionably daunting.
Another challenge to Chief Saunders will be giving a continual account of himself to those who have oversight over him; the Mayor of Toronto, the Toronto Police Services Board and yes, to a certain extent, the public at large. Every action, decision, or word that comes from his mouth will be literally held for public record and scrutiny. But the Chief should be fully aware of that, as it comes with the position.
Chief Saunders has inherited some potentially divisive responsibilities, and his qualifications certainly are not being called into question, but fulfilling his mandate as Chief of Police should not be about leaving a legacy for himself. More so, one would hope for revelatory elements such as those which enable opportunities allowing for the building of new foundations of community-based trust and interaction between the public and Toronto Police. At the same time, and of no less equal importance, ensuring his members have complete training and support; not only to carry out their assigned duties, but also for when those duties take their toll on them, physically and emotionally.
There will always be detractors when it comes to senior level appointments that inherently have a direct impact on the public. Let us at a minimum give opportunity for those newly appointed to positions of public trust, time to bring about necessary change. Yes, we can help by being diligent of their actions, or inactions, but more importantly, by being active with mature, supportive and informed engagement as well.