Toronto police chief says George Floyd's death 'speaks to value of body-worn cameras'
TORONTO -- George Floyd’s life being taken at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis last week “speaks to the value of why we need body-worn cameras” right here in Toronto, police chief Mark Saunders said.
“There isn’t any law enforcement officer that I can think of that did not have a horrible feeling in their stomach when they saw what happened to George Floyd – it still bothers me,” the chief said during a news conference held at Toronto Police Headquarters on Thursday afternoon.
“We’re there to preserve life, we are there to enhance community safety, and when you see that – they’ll have their day in court – but I will tell you I was offended by it.”
Saunders told reporters he personally understands that anti-Black racism is not just words, but a harsh reality.
“Take 1940 for example,” he said. “A Black man was hung because he did not address the officer by Mr., he said his first name. These types of atrocities have happened and a lot of people tend to forget that.”
“When they had a public lynching, they would be put in the newspaper, tomorrow 2 p.m. there will be a hanging, there will be a lynching, people would put on their Sunday’s best to watch.”
This was not done behind laneways, but rather out in the open, Saunders stated, adding that this took place in, what he refers to as, recent history.
“You can figure out how you want to define recent versus past,” he continued. “If my mom and my dad were alive, then it is recent enough for me to say there was a problem, we have gotten better, but the incremental change is why people are so angry right now.”
'The time is now over for incremental change'
Saunders said the “recent past around the world, and in Toronto,” clearly shows that “the time is now over for incremental change.”
“There has to be bigger change,” he stated.
The implementation of body-worn cameras for officers of the Toronto Police Service could soon be one “bigger change” put into effect.
“We’re near the finish line,” Saunders said of the matter on Thursday. “That has been a discussion that I have had for years. I have wanted body-worn cameras. This adds transparency between police and community and having those body-worn cameras will help give an objective account of that situation in those moments and it’s critical.”
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.
The matter, which has been addressed multiple times over the years, has resurfaced once again as the police service faces harsh criticism in relation to the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black woman who fell from a 24th-floor balcony on May 27.
Family members of the 29-year-old have said she was in the midst of a mental health crisis when police were called to her apartment, located in the area of Bloor Street West and High Park Avenue.
She was alone inside the unit with police when she fell to her death.
The province’s police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), is now investigating the circumstances leading up to her death and has conducted interviews with all six officers who were at the home before she fell off the balcony.
‘The people are talking, they want this, I want this’
Saunders went on to state that the service has worked with several key players, including community members, the province’s Attorney General’s office, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, the privacy commissioner, and the SIU, to ensure the implementation of body-worn cameras is done in the right way.
“We have had community town halls on the very discussion on: what are the things that you would like put in play to make sure that we at all times respect privacy, but at the same time have the ability of recording what’s necessary,” he said.
“And so it gets tricky – when we have certain things, for example, a young offender, a person underage, having that person’s image shown, people that have been victimized in a horrific way – what do we do with these things?”
The police partnerships stated above have helped the service “iron out” those concerns, Saunders said.
“I have been pushing hard. I want this done now. The people are talking, they want this, I want this. It will help with building the relationships that are necessary if we’re going to keep this city safe.”
An online petition created four days ago calls on members of the Toronto Police Service to “wear and turn on body cameras when responding.”
“We need to hold police officers accountable for their actions,” the petition reads. “There has been years of ‘pilot testing’ and now with Regis Korchiniski-Paquet’s death, a change has to be made.”
As of Thursday evening, the petition has more than 80,000 signatures.
Spokesperson for the Toronto Police Service, Meaghan Gray, told CTV News Toronto that the service has “undertaken a procurement process to secure a vendor” for the body-worn cameras and said that process is “almost complete.”
Once the technology is secured, she said, the implementation process will begin, which will be a phased-in approach, starting with one division of the service, and then once implementation is complete, every front-line officer will have one.
When asked, Saunders would not comment on the cost of this implementation, but added that the initiative is too valuable not to be considered.
Protests expected in Toronto this weekend
A protest against the police service was held in Korchinski-Paquet’s honour last weekend in downtown Toronto.
Additional protests in her honour, as well as in the honour of Floyd, are scheduled to take place in the city again this weekend.
Saunders said he expects this weekend’s protests to be as peaceful as those in the past.
“There’s a lot of passion, there’s a lot of anger, and there’s a lot of hope,” he said. “I hope that as Torontonians we can continue to do that.”
“I’m going to urge that we continue to be Torontonians, and I’m going to urge that we continue to have the peaceful protests and I urge that this is about making our city a better place. There is a lot that has been learned over the past weeks and we want to use that as an example of moving forward with community and the only way we can resolve this is if we work collectively, not disruptively.”
The police chief added that “if it switches” then the service has “the resources necessary to deal with those situations.”
“As we have with every event, there is always a plan. I’ve got highly-trained people. We do thousands of protests a year, this one I assume will be bigger and we have the resources to police what we need to police.”
Saunders would not comment on how many protests he is expecting in the city this weekend and where they are scheduled to take place.