Is this our new chief?

Board's praise of new acting chief Mike Boyd a sign he has inside track to top job

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Pam McConnell insists “there’s no front-runner” in the race to replace Julian Fantino as the city’s top cop. But even the freshly picked chair of the Toronto police services board must realize that this week’s appointment of retired deputy chief Mike Boyd as the local constabulary’s “acting” commander is going to be a pretty tough act to follow when the force’s civilian overseers get around to picking a winner in about three months’ time.

One needed only listen to the Ward 28 (Toronto Centre-Rosedale) councillor when she went public with the board’s decision to put Boyd in charge of law enforcement (with Staff Superintendent Bill Blair as his deputy) the day after Fantino’s five-year contract expires on February 28.

“I believe these appointments will ensure effective, experienced and team-oriented command-level leadership in the Toronto police service until completion of the important community consultation and the selection process for chief and deputy chief of police,” McConnell said.

The next day she was even more explicit in her praise of Boyd, who made the shortlist of candidates for chief in 1999, when Fantino got the job without even bothering to make a formal application.

“We need someone who knows the organization, who’s already been in the position [of acting chief] before, who’s done a good job and who has a wide breadth of experience,” McConnell said. “When we tried to match that with any other person, the obvious candidate was Mike Boyd. We were pleased that he agreed to do it.”

She could well be making a similar speech come April once hired headhunter Paul Stanley has compiled a list of suitable candidates and submitted their resumés to the TPSB for consideration.

Meanwhile, McConnell and her five colleagues (a seventh board member still awaits provincial government appointment) will consult with business, labour, social agencies and rank-and-file officers to come up with a “description of what we’re looking for in a chief of police.” Then a series of community meetings will be held across the city to see if that “characterization” fits the public’s idea of what our top law enforcement officer should be.

McConnell says she has no idea if the soon-to-be acting chief is even interested in the post on a permanent basis, and Boyd is not saying publicly himself. He’s out of the country and was not returning NOW’s calls to his home this week.

But the councillor adds, “I’m assuming that almost literally everybody will be applying.” That would include anointed acting deputy Blair, the force’s longest-serving staff superintendent, who also lost out to Fantino.

Police sources say the main reason Boyd decided to pack it in last April after 35 years on the force was that he figured Fantino was a cinch for an extended run in the College Street cop shop and he had no interest in playing backup any longer.

Of course, the law enforcement landscape started to change once David Miller became chief magistrate in late 2003. But it wasn’t until last June that a police services board badly divided by a power struggle between the remnants of the Lastman era and newcomers McConnell and Councillor John Filion managed to give Fantino the heave-ho.

But in a very real sense the tide has turned with the installation of McConnell as the new board chair, combined with the recent appointments of human rights activist Alok Mukherjee (by the city) and diversity consultant Hamlin Grange (by the province) to replace outgoing members Alan Heisey and Benson Lau.

And there’s good reason to believe the board will present an even more progressive face when Councillor Case Ootes, Lastman’s deputy mayor, is replaced by council when it reaches its mid-term mark in June and the Queen’s Park Liberals appoint that missing seventh member to replace former chair Norm Gardner, who called it quits late last fall.

“The sooner the better,” says McConnell, who clearly has the numbers to set the board’s agenda even before that final spot is filled.

The word around City Hall is that McConnell will chair the board for the next 12 months or so, until Mukherjee or Grange has picked up enough experience to step into the leadership role. In the meantime, she clearly has the mayor’s backing

“She understands that in our system civilian oversight and the oversight of the board are very important components of how policing can work at its best,” Miller said this week. He blasted critics like Ootes, who called her anti-cop and bad for police morale because she expects the cops to account for their nearly $700-million annual operating budget like any other city department.

The mayor also defended his right to be involved in the process that will select the next police chief, and reiterated his desire to see the top cop make his or her home in Toronto – unlike Fantino, who lives in suburban Woodbridge.

“I think it’s really important that the chief of police understands Toronto and that it be in his or her blood,” Miller said. “You have to understand our diversity, understand our neighbourhoods, and one of the ways you can demonstrate that is by living here.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt that Boyd resides in the city.

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