Two-tiered policing is coming to Toronto

Part of John Tory's answer to rising policing costs is to give them less work and hand traffic duties over to TTC enforcement officers


On Monday, January 2, Mayor John Tory sent an open letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne asking the province’s approval for enhanced powers for TTC enforcement officers. Tory wants these officers to direct traffic as well as ticket and tow vehicles disrupting public transit routes. Under the proposal approved by the TTC on December 20, some 50 such enforcement officers would receive additional policing powers to carry out these activities.

Tory claims these measures would help alleviate congestion in the city, especially during subway breakdowns when the TTC deploys shuttle buses.

He says, “We want to allow transit enforcement officers to keep traffic moving.”

So Tory and the TTC have opened yet another chapter in the seemingly unending saga of policing by TTC security. Their recommendation is intriguing for a couple of reasons. Is it a move to revive the TTC’s old dream of creating its own parallel police force? Or is it an attempt to bring tiered policing to Toronto through the back door?

And, finally, how does this proposal fit into the Police Services Board’s efforts to transform the model of policing in this city?

Over a decade ago, when David Miller was mayor, council approved an ambitious TTC security plan.

Decided without consultation with the police board or then police chief Bill Blair, the plan called for a security unit of several hundred special constables with extensive powers, including the power to conduct criminal investigations. The unit’s structure would mirror that of the police service, and it would be bigger than small-to-medium police forces across the province.

It came to light when the then TTC chair, Adam Giambrone, and I were discussing ways to enhance relations between the TTC and the police service. Those discussions went nowhere, in part because of serious concerns about the TTC creating a parallel police force. The board accepted Blair’s recommendation to end the TTC special constable program and create a dedicated transit safety unit within the Toronto police instead.

This reignited discussions and, based on the urging of Rob Ford’s mayoral administration, the board reinstituted a significantly slimmed down security program to be operated by the TTC, primarily to deal with fare evasion. The new model also established greater public accountability for TTC security personnel.

Is Tory’s move presenting us with a future that revives the TTC’s old dream of having its own police force?

As his comments indicate, his request to Wynne is based on an expanded enforcement role for the TTC, including functions performed by police officers under the Police Services Act.

That act requires a municipality to allocate the resources – tax dollars – for a public police service to provide “adequate and effective” policing services. Will Toronto now fund two police services – one subject to civilian oversight and the other without this requirement?

Tory is advocating this publicly funded system of policing in the name of saving money. Police officers cost more, and there aren’t enough of them, he has said.

He may have a point, but if there is a cost-benefit analysis, why not make it public? The last time I dealt with this issue, we found that TTC special constables earned as much as – and in some instances more than – police constables. 

It’s true that we already have tiered policing: public police transit and housing special constables private security in universities, colleges and apartment buildings, for example. 

However, only one of these bodies – the police service – has a legislated role, the authority to conduct criminal investigations and lay charges, and is held publicly accountable for its conduct through a system of independent oversight. 

If Tory wants to introduce a second tier of public policing, where does the Police Services Board stand on it?

We know the board has been working hard with police Chief Mark Saunders and a team of external experts to transform Toronto’s model of policing. At year’s end, Saunders announced that “big changes” are coming.

We don’t yet know what those changes are, what considerations are driving them or what the vision underlying them is.

For example, how big a consideration is saving the city money? And what consideration is the board’s review giving to changes like privatization and outsourcing?

Tory calls his plan for TTC enforcement officers a “simple” matter and is not pleased that his proposal must go through a long bureaucratic process. He’s either being naive or not forthcoming. 

What he’s calling for has significant policy implications. An exchange of letters between two political allies is a hell of a way to go about making policy changes.

Alok Mukherjee served as chair of the Toronto Police Services Board from 2005 to 2015. He is a distinguished visiting professor at Ryerson University.

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