Of the various items tabled re cently at police services board meetings, tasers and drug tests have been the most controversial.
Both the police union and senior command oppose drug tests for officers, and both support the expanded use of tasers. In this regard, the March 8 police services board meeting was a good day for them - and may have been a great day for interim chief Mike Boyd, who happens to be the front-runner to take over the job full-time.
Though the sight of the police union, police command and the entire board all in agreement leaves me anxious, one fact is undeniable: Julian Fantino's been gone but a month and it's already easier to breathe in here.
And Boyd is taking the opportunity to prove he's the source of the fresh air - a chance other applicants for the big chair don't get.
Alexi Wood of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, speaking jointly with police union president Dave Wilson, argued that the board has failed to justify the proposed drug tests as a requirement of workplace safety. Wilson stated that alleged drug use by officers should be an internal "supervisory" issue, not a political one.
But because of Mike Boyd, it may never become an issue.
In a departure from the stonewalling of his predecessor, Boyd suggested bringing in a consultant to help draft a more legally sound policy, initiating "Drug Recognition Expertise" programs at the supervisory level and introducing random tests wherever permitted, such as in the case of officers identified as having drug issues.
If you weren't paying attention, you could have missed the transition to the next agenda item, since the board chose to forgo the traditional signifier of someone storming out with pack of reporters in tow. Instead, in a rare instance of unanimity, a motion to jointly draft an internal drug policy was passed with little commotion.
At the same meeting, Boyd seemed enthusiastic about expanding the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, a partnership between St. Mike's Hospital and 51 Division that aims to divert "emotionally disturbed" calls away from jails.
He also showed himself sympathetic to the concerns of women's anti-violence groups about objectification of sexual assault victims by the computerized Violent Crime Linkage Analysis System. Not even the city auditor has touched on that. Boyd's been paying attention.
Of course, the ad hoc honcho can read. After widespread public consultation, he knows what the board wants to see in a prospective hire. The board, in fact, released a five-page "competency profile" outlining exactly what it's looking for in a chief. Hopefully, Boyd wasn't just reading from the script.
For now, we may be being treated to the sight of an ideal police board, one that engages in more negotiation than mortar fire. But this blurring of borders could prove dangerous. The board's reluctance to increase the use of tasers may be dissolving while public concerns grow.
Boyd was just short of effusive in his support of starting small with a taser pilot project "guided by board direction" that would arm the sergeants in three divisions with the electric shock guns.
However, while never explicitly condemning repeated suggestions from critics that the board draft a policy restricting taser use to situations where service revolvers would otherwise be drawn, Boyd clearly believes the weapons are necessary to "fill a gap between lethal and less lethal force."
No such gap was evident in the presented use-of-force diagram.
His consultative tone was strained slightly when he faced proposals that civilians review the pilot project. He balked at that idea but cheerily granted public involvement in the Orwellian-sounding Saving Lives Working Group, which would be charged with a PR campaign surrounding use-of-force rules and the complaints system. Perhaps a possible slogan could be "It's shocking how much we let you complain!"
Amnesty International's Andy Buxton expressed concern that the weapons (possibly implicated in nine deaths in Canada) would be used by officers as a "routine force option." Even the province's deputy coroner, Jim Cairns, an avowed taser booster, was quite clear that they should only be used as an alternative to sidearms and "not [be used] as cattle prods."
Ironically, Fantino may have helped the cause of civil liberties in this regard. About as subtle as the stun guns he was pushing, the ex-chief could have made mandatory daffodil lapel pins seem bullish and violent. Board chair Pam McConnell suggested that tight restrictions be placed on tasers, but other board members don't support this.
Now, as the long-embattled board finds a potential friend in the chief's chair, will the board relax its vigilance and gloss over public fears?