TORONTO — The body that oversees the Toronto Police Service will consider recommendations to immediately bolster mental health services and gather community input on the police budget at a meeting this week in an effort to combat anti-Black racism within the force.
The eight suggestions were developed amid a renewed focus on the relationship between police and racialized communities in the wake of the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died while a white cop pressed a knee to his neck for more than eight minutes.
"The Board must be a catalyst, along with others, for the examination of reforms and changes that are in the city's best interests — particularly in the areas of community safety and policing," reads the document signed by board chair Jim Hart.
The report, which the board will review at a meeting on Friday, suggests expanding the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT) Program "on an urgent basis," with funding from the current budget.
It notes that the MCIT Program is not currently able to meet the demand for crisis intervention in the city and says the program connects people in crisis with community resources rather than the criminal justice system.
It also says that if an "alternative mobile crisis intervention model is identified" and everybody agrees, the board can reallocate funding from the MCIT Program to that new model.
The report also recommends funding "enhancements to the public consultation process" for the annual proposed Toronto Police Service Budget, involving "community-based consultation partners" starting this September.
"While the Board engages in public consultation with respect to the budget each year, the approach to consultation has not been consistent and there is always room for enhancing public participation," the document reads. "The Board should direct an amount from its Special Fund to support a more robust annual public consultation process with respect to the budget."
The recommendations come after two Toronto city councillors announced they plan to issue a motion to defund the city's police force by 10 per cent and use the money for community resources.
But the report pushes back against the idea of using police funding to boost community services, while acknowledging that it's important those resources get adequate funding.
"Budgets for the delivery of police services must recognize that police are called upon 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to answer a full spectrum of community safety calls — including those that relate to persons in crisis — when other services are not available in the city," it reads.
That's a deliberate misunderstanding of what advocates have been calling for, said Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga.
"The defund the police movement really is a call to remove funds from police budgets, not asking the police to move funds within their budgets," he said.
Just because the police are currently able to respond to calls around the clock, that doesn't mean they should continue to handle mental health calls.
He suggested there should be another number to call 24/7, instead of 911, for those in crisis, so mental health care workers can intervene rather than armed officers.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a written statement Wednesday that he believes the proposals are a good "first step."
"I fully support accelerating the pace of police reform in Toronto and I believe the recommendations going to the board this week will result in tangible changes that will produce more accountable policing," he said. "We will also continue to make changes to focus police officers on major crime and improving how we respond to residents experiencing a mental health crisis."
He said other measures will need to be enacted by the city and provincial governments.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 17, 2020.
Nicole Thompson, The Canadian Press