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Police association warns of ‘growing disconnect’ in open letter
Joshua Freeman, CP24.com
Published Tuesday, May 17, 2016 11:34AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 17, 2016 4:22PM EDT
The union representing Toronto police is calling out what is sees as “a growing disconnect between the police and the community.”
In an open letter to the residents of Toronto, published as a full page ad in both The National Post and the Toronto Sun Tuesday, Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack says that the disconnect “comes at a time when the Toronto Police Service is facing unprecedented challenges, including proposed budget cuts and ‘transformative change’ in the delivery of police services.”
McCormack says that violent crime is on the rise in the city and that police insight needs to be considered in combating it.
“The safest city in North America has a gun violence problem,” McCormack says, adding later that “a firm stand against violent crime” is needed in the city.
The letter comes a day after the fatal shooting of a pregnant woman in Rexdale sparked public outrage at gun violence in the city.
McCormack says that police are facing a slew of challenges as “politicians and some community groups” look to reduce policing costs.
Police spending has remained a hot button topic in the city over the last few years. The Toronto Police Service budget remains the biggest line item in the city’s overall budget, with a 2016 allocation of more than $1 billion. In February, Toronto City Council approved a 2.5 per cent increase to the 2016 police budget after a heated debate during which some councillors argued that the budget in fact needs to be trimmed.
The same month, outgoing deputy police chief Peter Sloly rustled some feathers after he said the force wastes money on infrastructure and that it could likely get by with several hundred less officers.
The letter also comes a day before a sentencing hearing for Const. James Forcillo, the officer found guilty of attempted murder in the fatal streetcar shooting of Sammy Yatim in 2013.
Forcillo’s case, as well as the local Black Lives Matter movement fueled by the shooting of Sudanese immigrant Andrew Loku, have drawn criticism about the way police interact with the public.
In the letter, McCormack says the TPA is “100% committed to building a mutual trust and respect with the communities we serve and protect” and stresses that “public safety must become a public matter” rather than an issue decided behind closed doors.
McCormack also uses the letter to acknowledge that the practice of carding, which allowed police to detain people on the street without providing a reason, has effectively come to an end after being quashed by provincial legislation and local efforts.
“For the record, let us say this – we accept that carding, or whatever we call street checks –is over,” he says.
“It is time to move forward and find a meaningful way to engage proactively with the community. There has never been a more critical time for the police, the province, our civic leaders and the residents of Toronto collectively take a firm stand against violent crime.”
While the letter does not offer any specific prescriptions, it asks residents to engage with the TPA on its website.
Discussing the letter with reporters outside city hall on Tuesday, Mayor John Tory said that “we have to keep working at finding new opportunities for police and members of the community to engage each other.”
Tory, however, brushed aside McCormack’s suggestion that a lack of police engagement with the public is entirely to blame for the recent spike in gun crime.
“This is a serious problem. I don’t deny that for one second but I also don’t have a magic wand to wave any more than Mr. McCormack or anyone else does,” he said. “There is no single answer to this. If we had one we would have implemented it by now.”