There are many reasons to cheer the imminent exit of Julian Fantino as T.O.'s top cop. But the one least talked about is the way he obstructed the kinds of creative policing innovations now being explored elsewhere in North America and points beyond.
Indeed, a survey of police services in the United States and England indicates that progressive police managers are going to dramatic lengths to end the kind of top-down law enforcement practised by Fantino and tighten the bonds between cop and community.
In some cases, this involves the radical step of breaking down and parcelling out some police functions to unsworn and sometimes unpaid members of the public. While it's not clear if these programs would necessarily suit Toronto's culture, they at least provide room to dream.
In San Diego, for example, over 800 volunteers augment daily police functioning. There are seven retired senior volunteer patrol programs whose members wear uniforms, drive cars with police insignias and carry police radios. They collect fingerprints, take reports, patrol high-crime neighbourhoods and visit senior citizens who live alone.
Then there's a crisis intervention team of volunteers specially trained to provide immediate support to victims and witnesses, and a traffic control unit for routine street flow. The idea behind such initiatives, says Captain Bruce Pfefferkorn, is to free up regular officers' time so they can focus on serious law enforcement matters.
"The volunteer effort actually started on a grassroots level in the early 90s," says Pfefferkorn. "Many of the residents decided they wanted to do more." Partnership is the buzzword in San Diego, and public satisfaction with the police service has soared.
But authorities in England, who have long eyed American policing, are going where few Yankee departments have gone - into the paid civilianization of some law enforcement functions. These non-cop cops are known as police community support officers, and as an indication of what a big hit they are with the public, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government announced last week that their numbers will be increased from 4,000 to more than 20,000 over the next few years.
Duties of these support officers range from the routine to the creative. In Kent, they've turned the back rooms of local pubs into youth centres, or "pub clubs," as they've come to be known, and are helping offenders re-adjust to freedom.
Not surprisingly, Britain's national police union views the trend with some concern. But Rod Dalley, vice-chair of the Police Federation, based in London, talks carefully about the new situation because not only is the public enamoured of it, but so are many police officers.
Furthermore, Dalley understands the impetus for hiring these new kinds of officers. It lies in the disconnect between the falling crime rate - residents of Western Europe and most of North America are less likely to be victims of crime than ever before - and the paradoxical rising level of public insecurity.
"(Support officers are) a point of contact for the public," Dalley says. "What you need is a visible presence for people to approach and bring their problems to." It's called "reassurance policing," a high-profile authority presence that deters petty crime at the same time as it gives nervous citizens the feeling that help is near.
Now there are signs that the UK will augment the powers of community support officers by allowing them to search suspects, deal with panhandlers, direct traffic and enforce municipal bylaws.
That leaves Dalley and police unionists trying to hold on to their share of the market for providing personal security. "To a certain degree, we are having to sell the advantages of having fully sworn officers," he says.
Police leaders, it seems, may have brought the problem on themselves by relying on the 911 call as their conduit to citizen needs. Especially since the advent of the mobile phone, 911 response has become less and less efficient. Police get so many calls that they must pick and choose, leaving callers frustrated.
It's this same estrangement from law enforcement levers that Toronto communities suffer from, starting with the 911 credibility gap and moving on to the lack of on-the-ground patrols and neighbourhood communication.
Early in his term, Fantino switched to the practice of many U.S. jurisdictions deploying police based on the number of calls received in any one area - a sure sign that he was willing to borrow bad ideas but not good ones.
Ironically, this move, along with his general disdain for public scrutiny, led to the demise of the best example of police-resident relations in the city - community policing in Gaytown. The much vaunted liaison committee is now defunct, and regular foot patrols a thing of the past. According to Councillor Kyle Rae, it was the 911 staffing model that cut the number of patrol officers in 51 Division (which now includes the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood) from 24 to eight. It's not because there's less crime that people don't call, Rae says, but because downtown residents have given up and don't bother calling.
To get around the resistance to community foot patrols at police headquarters, Rae persuaded city council to devote $500,000 this summer to "community action policing": officers on foot or bicycle in the downtown core. "Earmarking money specifically is a really neat way of getting around the chief's ability to ignore council," Rae says.
The other barrier to community satisfaction is officers' compressed work week; police on the beat regularly disappear on days off. "Police shift work is one of the worst detractors (from community policing), because (the public) loses sight of the officer," says Staff Sergeant Steve Duggan, who teaches community policing at C. O. Bick College. "The officer who first (responds) and does the report will go on days off, so you don't have consistency. Sometimes the public think nothing's happened."
There's the importance of perception again - and why civilian officers may have a place in the new order. Perhaps with someone new sitting in the big chair at 40 College, T.O. cops can work on renewing the bonds with their communities that have suffered so much during the Fantino reign of error.