It's not surprising that Julian Fantino isn't an easy man to read. He is a chief of police, and while less gruff than some of his counterparts, he still has a stringent recruiting process for the facial expressions and vocal intonations that get public-relations duty. But we know a few things. He thinks politicians don't understand the force, he believes ever-increasing policing can create a better city, and he will not brook suggestions that his fatherly faith in the force is misplaced. One can generally count on an earful when these subjects are raised.
So what to make of a less blustery chief? Recent dust-ups with City Hall are well documented, but somehow the dust of late isn't quite as high as it used to be. Could it be that hard-edged Fantino is choreographing a bid to get a contract renewal from his new civilian-oversight-preoccupied bosses?
The first hint of his new demeanour came during his recent town-hall tour, when the chief stunned observers by musing that policing alone is not a solution to crime - socio-economic realities have to be considered, too. Then there was his tempered response to the idea of cameras in cruisers, which he had previously railed against, saying it suggested the force is racist. He recently stated simply that he is willing to wait for an OPP report.
During budget negotiations, the chief disagreed with cutting police spending, but most of the belligerence came from angry reps from the Police Association. For his part, the chief ventured to suggest reductions in overtime - although less than a year earlier he'd pushed for more overtime.
A similar pattern emerged at last month's board meeting when officer drug tests were recommended. The police union lawyer spoke about "unreasonable search and seizure," while the chief back-pedalled on his earlier statements and offered a cautious endorsement, saying he'd "be the first to volunteer.'
Has the chief discovered that cooperation is the better part of valour?
"He's never been much interested in civilian oversight,' says Paul Copeland, a prominent criminal lawyer and member of the Law Union of Ontario. "And when (Norm) Gardner was chair of the board, he didn't have to be.
"The issues are hugely embarrassing for him," Copeland says, referring to the current scandals. "He's got to do politicking differently. I presume he still wants to renew his contract.'
But when I test out my theory about how a dangling contract can alter behaviour, the chief's corporate communications spokesperson, Mark Pugash, doesn't bite. "It's difficult for me to give any weight to that," he says. "Perhaps (any changes) are a function of the fact that he's dealing with different people."
One change was Fantino's response to the Ferguson report on police misconduct which he sat on for a year. Was this stubbornness, an attempted cover-up or a matter of the chief just finding his footing in a new civilian-oversight climate? No one on the board is willing to publicly mull over Fantino's intentions, but member John Filion is happy to discuss the change of direction."We've made tremendous progress. The board is more in control, because this board wants to be in control."
One definite sign of this is a motion put forward by vice-chair Pam McConnell at the board's last meeting. The extensive policy suggestion, now being fine-tuned by a sub-committee, proposes retaining "an independent party to identify management and operational gaps which may create unlawful activity."
Fantino was game. "Have you considered bringing in the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services (OCCPS)?" he asked. "I would welcome the opportunity to showcase the Toronto police service."
Does board chair Alan Heisey also see a need for an administrative review? "I'd have to know what you mean," he responds. He does wonder, however, if OCCPS would be enough. "That wouldn't be led by the board. I'd like to see it board-led."
Is the chief's suggestion about bringing in OCCPS a sign of his willingness to play by consensus? Or just to play at consensus? "I don't think it's appropriate to comment," says Heisey. Fair enough. I begin another question but stop when he chuckles. "That's funny," he says.
What's funny? "No, no, nothing," he covers. "Keep going, keep going. I know what you want - I can't give it to you."
Well, I know one thing that's funny: the chair of the police services board doesn't yet know what an administrative review might entail but he can read my mind. I just wish he'd told me what it is I want.