One thing you could say about former police chief Julian Fantino is that he worked hard. From all indications, he showed up at the office every day and did police chief sorts of things, but much of his momentous effort seemed devoted to standing still on a moving train.
During the June 13 police board meeting where he received the Medal of Merit, chair Pam McConnell seemed to have little to say about him except how long he'd been a cop. The medal is like a gold watch, but less functional.
The meeting that formalized Fantino's departure from city politics this week also devoted more resources to "diversity relations" and equity initiatives. At the very least, it gives them more room on the force's organizational chart.
"We are entering an age when [ethical] considerations are of great importance," said Chief William Blair. Finally. Everyone else entered that age around the Enlightenment. "It requires the undivided attention of an officer committed to equality of access for marginalized communities."
But the devil will be in the details, since in some ways marginalized people are already getting more than their fair share of access.
A presentation by physicians Tanya Zakrison, Paul Hamel and Stephen Hwang detailed the results of a study on homeless people's interactions with police and paramedics. Out of 160 interviewees, 57 reported being assaulted by police, with 15 assaults in the past year.
The study underlined the board's interest in expansion of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team, a pilot project run in partnership with St. Michael's Hospital. Medical responders paired with police in the MCIT respond to calls to 51 Division concerning emotionally disturbed persons (unfortunately referred to as "EDPs"), with the aim of diverting people away from the legal system.
At an earlier board meeting, a presentation on the team revealed that only 8 per cent of the 704 calls to police concerning emotionally disturbed people last year involved explicit criminal activity - meaning that without the MCIT, 647 people could have been unnecessarily caught up in the legal system. Only 4 per cent of such calls made within MCIT hours resulted in arrests.
The majority of EDP calls citywide occur in marginalized housing. This month, board member Hamlin Grange expressed surprise that race-based statistics were not collected for these calls. He cited his discovery that 70 per cent of those referred to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health are people of colour.
A hastily scheduled presentation by Australia's Tjanara Goreng Goreng, founder of the Foundation for Indigenous Trauma Recovery, in town for the June 9 and 10 Community Crisis Response conference, offered a succinct explanation.
"It's been shown that people who are brought up under an acculturation process [in which they] are toxically shamed all their lives act out in the same way as people brought up in abusive households." But in this case, the abusive parent is society, and we've come to rely on police, who so often dispense the acculturation, to also deal with its effects.
The mental health system can't tackle social inequity and is often a source of highly concentrated acculturation and shaming itself - but it is better than prison. And if the police brass are engaging in more than posturing, it's a step that may redirect the unwieldy but significant momentum the force can bring to bear on social issues.
"We have focused on the top half of the organization," said McConnell of the ongoing revisioning. "There's still a lot of work to do below that."