It will take more than a video message from Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to change the long-standing and deep-rooted culture across the city’s police service, says Toronto criminal lawyer Kevin Hunter.
A former cop and now an associate with Edward H. Royle & Associates, Hunter says while he commends the chief for addressing officers’ unacceptable behaviour, more drastic measures are needed. Read Toronto Star
The video, sent to members of the Toronto Police, addressed instances including officers turning off dashboard cameras, being untruthful in court and racist remarks, the Star reports.
“The Toronto Police Services Board has sent a clear message to Chief Blair – that it’s time to shape up,” says Hunter. “Recent negative publicity, most of it deserved, has brought the Toronto Police Service (TPS) into focus. The board was strong in its message to the chief and because the accountability of the TPS starts and ends with him, Chief Blair has passed on that message by video to each and every one is his officers with an equally clear message: to raise to the standards reasonably expected of them by citizens.
“This is both encouraging, since the chief has taken action, but equally discouraging that it was necessary in the first place. This is the first time I’ve heard of the medium of video being used to mass communicate messages of such importance. At least this demonstrates his commitment to the message, but will the message be heeded?”
Hunter says after several recent, well-known events involving the TPS, confidence in the organization could be at an all-time low.
“Their reputation has taken a hit in recent years, especially since the G20. And a string of recent indiscretions could have further negative impact on employee morale,” he says. “Then comes the message from the chief. The real question is, will it change anything? Only time will tell, but it’s doubtful.”
The real issue, says Hunter, is police culture.
“A video message of condemnation lasting only a few minutes is probably not enough to change the long-standing culture of the self-proclaimed largest street gang in the world,” he says. “These issues will almost certainly continue to routinely manifest themselves especially under new public scrutiny.
“One of the truly enraging policing issues continues to be the police witness who perjures him/herself to ‘win.’ The recent Costain case is the latest judicial recognition of this phenomenon.” Read Toronto Sun
“Not being truthful on the stand is nothing new – police culture has fostered an eternal regime of officers willing to take the stand and commit perjury in order to obtain convictions,” says Hunter.
“Officers who peddle stories or distort facts to accord with the law self-justify their actions ‘for the greater good.’ Cops are people, people tell stories for several reasons including increasing their perceived importance.
“The risk is low, too – Crown attorneys are supposed to report officers who fabricate, but Crowns are understandably reluctant to do so unless accompanied by an actual finding from the presiding judge,” he says. “So officers, accompanied by an immediate badge of credibility, are virtually immune from sanction and are able to falsely testify to get their guy.”
Hunter adds: “Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the chief’s message will curtail this behaviour.”