Cheol Joon Baek
Maybe it will all work out for Bill Blair after all.
Here we are, a little more than three weeks from the end of that mass buildup of police in priority neighbourhoods announced after the Danzig Street shooting shocker, and no innocent people have been added to the body count ledger for the summer of 2012. Even the Caribbean Carnival went off without a hitch.
But just when it looked like the stars were aligning in Blair's favour, another bomb got tossed his way by his arch nemesis at City Hall (evil villain Mayor Rob Ford). There'll be another police hiring freeze in 2013. Or at least that's the goal.
That would be the third one in as many years, which might mean 400 fewer officers patrolling the streets by this time next summer. The mayor's freeze play may be endangering public safety, but where doing in his perceived political enemies is concerned, no price is too high for Ford.
It's no secret that Blair was never Ford's choice for chief. Blair is David Miller's guy. Ford said as much during the election.
Up until now, Ford has been busy fighting on too many fronts to turn his attention to this would-be coup. Blair is not without friends, after all. And those 911 calls of the mayor's under lock and key somewhere at the chief's disposal could wreck the mayor's political fortunes if they were ever made public. There are a few copies floating around, so Blair's hands would be clean. Just sayin'. That's the way police politics rolls in Hogtown. Think lies. Think audiotape.
The mayor's office is clearly gearing up to off the chief, the just-announced hiring freeze another way of turning up the heat on Blair by cutting his support from below.
An effort to replace Blair-friendly Scarborough councillor Chin Lee on the Police Services Board when appointments come up in December has also been set in motion. And at the moment, Blair has a tenuous grip on the seven-member board on which the city holds four seats (three councillors and one citizen appointee) and the province the other three.
The province isn't eager to see Blair replaced, although the dynamic between Queen's Park and City Hall being what it is, that could change at any time. One vote the wrong way and it's curtains for Blair.
The word has been put out to officers in the senior ranks around Blair that Ford is looking for candidates to replace him. Ambition being what it is, it's no surprise, then, that a few have been courting favour with the mayor's point guy on the policing file.
That's Scarborough councillor Michael Thompson, who's made no bones about wanting to challenge the status quo at 40 College, or "the brotherhood," as he likes to call it, since he took over as vice-chair of the Police Services Board.
Ask Thompson if he has confidence in Blair and you're likely to be met with a long pause followed by the kind of laugh that might be provoked by a trick question.
"I haven't thought about it," he says.
That's not the scuttlebutt at police headquarters, where Thompson has been busy inculcating the everybody-challenge-everybody culture.
The two got off on the wrong foot when the Ford administration tried in the early days to strong-arm the chief into a 10 per cent budget cut that would have meant laying off 500 cops.
Thompson was hung out to dry by the mayor on that one, and its been mano-a-mano ever since.
"I'm interested in being part of the problem if problems are the way to get to solutions," says Thompson, who's already has discussions with the mayor about continuing in his role on the board.
It wasn't supposed to be like this for Gentleman Bill, who, until the G20 blew up in his face, was touted as the best top cop the city's ever had. Of course, compared to predecessors Julian Fantino and Bill McCormack, that may not be saying much.
But under his watch there's no denying that crime has fallen in each of the last seven years in virtually every major category. That didn't happen magically. And his is the most diverse force in the country.
Look at the top rungs of his command. A woman, Acting Deputy Chief Jane Wilcox, heads up specialized operations command, which oversees all the force's major investigative units, including guns and gangs. Blair's head of divisional policing command, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, is the force's highest-ranking black officer.
But what a difference a couple of high-profile shootings have made. The Danzig Street and Eaton Centre episodes exposed some harsh truths, like the probability that the remarkably shrinking crime numbers attributed to TAVIS, the rapid response unit set up after the summer of the gun in 2005, have been achieved at the expense of criminalizing whole communities.
Then there are the allegations of racial profiling - too many to ignore - and excessive use of force by frontline officers. Perhaps the problems were there all along and some of us chose to ignore them. Blair's role in the G20 debacle, and lies he told to defend the brutal actions of his officers in the largest mass arrests in this country's history don't wash either.
So the shine is off. But is it just a coincidence that his decline has coincided with Ford's election?
Arguably, the different tone set for policing by Mayor Ford's don't-hug-a-thug rhetoric has also affected the divisional commanders. Are those aforementioned senior officers now looking for the top job going to do Blair's or the mayor's bidding? Policing is not without its fiefdoms. It was ever thus, unfortunately.
Ford's put the chief in an tight position budget-wise. Giving cops a whopping 6 per cent pay raise instead of allocating some of that money to other policing priorities leaves him with little flexibility.
Even police union head Mike McCormack admits Ford's hiring freeze of the last two years, which has reduced the force's complement by 178, has had a ripple effect throughout the ranks.
More to the point, while Blair's had to dodge media bullets about the recent rise in gunplay, the root causes of violence aren't just a police responsibility.
That issue, as Jamaican Canadian Association head Audrey Campbell points out, "has been studied to death."
Campbell isn't as "disillusioned" with policing as some other black community groups. "Police don't make policy; they enforce the law," she says. "We're not going to use the actions of the few to indict the whole force, but we also expect that when concerns are raised, they will be addressed."
Campbell and Sharon Shelton, executive director of Tropicana Community Services, were at the force's press conference at police headquarters late last month to publicly lend their support to Blair's temporary manpower buildup in priority neighbourhoods, the so-called Summer Safety Initiative.
But it was left to Deputy Chief Sloly, the force's visible minority face, who hasn't been prominent publicly on the gunplay issue, to sell the massive redeployment.
Along with the pursuit of "high-risk offenders," there would be "continued engagement with our young people and community partners in those neighbourhoods in the most respectful and development-focused ways possible."
This is a delicate matter for Sloly, who's been caught in the racial crossfire, left to defend the actions of cops under his command in priority neighbourhoods against charges of racial profiling.
At the centre of that storm is the use of "208s," or Field Information Reports, by TAVIS officers to keep track of so-called "persons of interest." (See sidebar.)
Sloly hasn't hesitated in the past to voice his objection to cops stepping over the racial line. When talk of his succeeding Blair was rife, Sloly offered in a February 2011 Black History Month speech to the Board of Trade that some cops in his old haunt in 31 Division, in the heart of the Jane-Finch community, "who don't deserve to wear the uniform because of their attitudes and their actions."
The Toronto Police Association demanded an apology and said Sloly should be removed from the professional standards unit, which metes out force discipline. Nothing ever came of that.
All seems to have been forgotten on that front, at least by McCormack. Sloly turned up at 31 Division to clarify his comments. By most accounts, he has the confidence of divisional officers, though whether the community policing philosophy espoused by the senior command is trickling down on the streets depends on what area of the city we're talking about. When divisional commanders in priority neighbourhoods are showing up uninvited at community meetings and won't leave when they're asked to, there's a problem.
Frontline officers are also feeling the stress of budget cuts. Truth be told, not all are thrilled about working compulsory 12-hour shifts to meet the demands of the summertime escalation.
Says McCormack, "It's not like, ‘Wow, great, we get to work longer shifts.' But our members realize there are some issues going on in the city right now with gunplay, and we'll do our part to stem the violence."
You have to travel to 23 Division at the nexus of Kipling and Finch in the northwest corner of the city to see the Toronto force's most shining example of community policing.
Last Thursday, August 9, some 40 kids from the Mount Olive-Silverstone-Jamestown area were brought in for the TV cameras to show off the Cool Tool School program. The brainchild of local pastor Al Bowen, the project equips local kids with the tools, both literal and figurative, to make a better life for themselves outside the omnipresent gang culture in this priority neighbourhood.
TAVIS officers offer their practical skills to the program. It's part of "the bigger TAVIS umbrella that's not much seen or heard about in the news," says Sergeant Kevin VanSchubert. "We do it in uniform on purpose, because we want you to see us not just as policemen but also as people."
It's a touching scene, even if the promise of climbing out of poverty into the skilled trades isn't an easy sell when guys involved in the local commerce are rolling up in Hummers.
The mayor, in hospital for a throat infection, couldn't be here. But his mother, Dianne, is on hand to lend her support to the cause.
His brother Doug, the councillor for the area, is expected soon, to big up the community policing effort. And he doesn't disappoint. We should be doing programs like this right across the city, he says.
That's head-spinning given the Ford admin's record when it comes to community grants.
The local superintendent, Ron Taverner, a legend in community policing, is not only a mentor of the chief's but an old friend of the Fords. They go way back.
But this photo op is no signal of a rapprochement between the mayor's office and the chief. It has more to do with quelling the backlash from minority communities after those asinine comments the mayor made post-Danzig Street linking gun violence to immigration.
It's back to the bad old days of police politics, where nothing is what it appears to be. And it's about to get a lot uglier.