Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders is stepping down
TORONTO -- Mark Saunders is stepping down from his role as the chief of the Toronto Police Service.
Saunders, who has held the top title at the service since April 2015, will mark his last day in the role on July 31.
“Here I am after serving 37 plus years of what I believe to be the greatest law enforcement agency in the world. I’ve watched this organization grow, learn, listen and serve the greatest, fourth-largest city in the continent and the most diverse city in the world,” Saunders said at a news conference held at Toronto Police Headquarters on Monday afternoon.
“I look forward to being a full-time dad and a full-time husband that’s not an exhausted by-product who walks through the door at the end of the day.”
In August 2019, following Toronto’s most deadly year ever, which included two shocking incidents, the North York van attack and a mass shooting on the Danforth, Saunders’ contract as chief of the service was extended until April 30, 2021. That was the second time in the past 40 years that the service’s chief would serve more than a single term.
Prior to being named the first-ever Black chief, Saunders worked in several units of the Toronto Police Service, including homicide, professional standards and emergency task force.
While announcing his resignation and admitting that not everything about his tenure was perfect, Saunders thanked his family, fellow members of the service, the media, and the people of Toronto for their continued support.
“I want to thank the citizens and communities of Toronto for their partnerships you’ve created for us in keeping Toronto safe,” he said. “You’re responsible for solving most of the cases that were presented in the city, you’re responsible for working us through the good, the bad, the indifferent.”
“You’re the ones who came to the table to keep us in-check whenever it was necessary.”
When asked why he was leaving his position now, he stated that he wasn’t going to leave until he had “satisfied the men and women of the organization.”
“As chief, the expiry date is when you retire, when your contract is up, or it’s when you finish a project or a mission,” Saunders said, adding that he believes the service is “in a safe spot.”
“As a dad, as Mark Saunders, I can pick any time, but in my 37 plus years, I’ve never had an August off and this will be the first time that I will have an August off with my family and I’m not sure what to do with it yet, but I’m looking forward to it.”
‘I wanted one project’: Body-worn cameras coming to TPS
Last week, Saunders said George Floyd’s life being taken at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis spoke to the value of why members of the Toronto Police Service need to be equipped with body-worn cameras.
Body-worn cameras have been absent on the vests of police officers in Toronto for several years now. A pilot project that saw 100 front-line officers be equipped with the cameras for 11 months ended in April 2016.
This past weekend, in the wake of Floyd’s death, thousands of protestors participated in anti-Black racism rallies in downtown Toronto, and across the world. Saunders joined protestors near Yonge and College streets on Friday and took a knee.
Saunders said that he previously thought he would finish the year off as police chief, but after the weekend protests he received many calls for him to “go another five years,” and he said he “had to put it to a stop.”
In putting a stop to it, Saunders made his announcement on Monday and noted that his “one project” of officers being equipped with body-worn cameras will hopefully be fulfilled by July.
“I wanted one project and by all accounts I think we might have an opportunity to fulfill that and I’ll tell you, I’ll be the happiest chief in the world if that does happen in July but there are a whole host of reasons and at the end of the day, it’s a whole bunch of things but it’s going to be good to be a dad.”
Earlier on Monday, Toronto Mayor John Tory said some officers could begin wearing body cameras as early as this summer. He said the matter will likely be discussed at next month’s Toronto Police Services Board meeting.
Saunders on his proudest moment
When asked for his greatest achievement as police chief and his biggest regret, Saunders touted his work on the service’s transformational taskforce.
“I can’t think of any regrets, everything has become an opportunity, but I will say that the one thing that I thought was great was the transformational taskforce,” he said.
“If you go back to when it started and what the concept of the transformational taskforce, it was giving the community equal ownership of what the Toronto Police Service should look like, no one has ever done that before.”
He added that it was also one of his “most uncomfortable moments.”
“Half of my best players and half of the community, different lenses, different colours, different mindsets and we built from a blank page. That has never been done before but now you fast forward to today, look at where we’re at, this is exactly where we are, this is what the community is demanding.”
What’s next for Saunders?
After taking some time off to spend quality time with his family, Saunders said he plans to continue working for the city of Toronto for free on issues close to his heart.
“When I say retired, doesn’t mean that I’m done,” he said. “There are things that I want to do for the city of Toronto for free. I think I come with a lot of knowledge that can help in keeping the city safe.”
“I see a lot of young Black boys getting killed by young Black boys and law enforcement deals with those symptoms and I want to help the cure for the disease and I think I have a ton of knowledge that can help keep governments in-check and do the right thing to make sure that we get it right.”
Saunders underwent a kidney transplant in 2017. He said his health was not a factor in this decision.
‘Has always worked to protect the city’
In the wake of his resignation announcement, Toronto Mayor John Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford thanked Saunders for his hard work and offered him well-wishes in the future.
“On behalf of all Toronto residents, I want to thank Chief Saunders for his exemplary service,” Tory said. “He has led the women and men of the Toronto Police Service for the last five years – working to modernize the service and establishing community-focusing policing.”
“I wish him all the best in his retirement from the Toronto Police Service. We will continue to see the benefits of his pioneering work on modernization and culture change for years to come.”
Ford called Saunders a “tremendous leader and a true champion for the Toronto community.”
“I want to give a big thank you to Saunders for his service,” the premier said. “Together we took on many challenges and I want to thank him for his partnership and friendship.”
“I wish him the best.”