TORONTO -- Toronto must find a new way to deal with people in mental health crisis and root out racism within its police force, concerned citizens said Thursday at a virtual town hall about police reform.

The meeting -- launched by the city's police board -- comes amid calls to defund the force, which has come under criticism for its handling of mental health calls, some of which have resulted in people in crisis being fatally shot.

"When we send police to a mental health call we criminalize disability," said Cybele Sack, a Toronto citizen who spoke at the town hall.

"Creating a new mental health service is an opportunity to innovate in service of the community with better outcomes and greater trust."

Demand to speak at the meeting was so high that the board added three more dates to accommodate everyone who signed up, though many did not show up to the virtual town hall Thursday morning.

Late last month, city council voted against a cut to the force's budget, but passed a motion proposing a suite of changes to policing that includes anti-racism measures and the implementation of body-worn cameras.

The calls for reform come in the wake of the U.S. police killing of George Floyd, a Black man from Minneapolis, and the death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black woman who fell from her balcony while police were in her Toronto home. Korchinski-Paquet's family has said they called police because she was in distress and needed help for her mental health.

Jacqueline Edwards, president of the Association of Black Law Enforcers, urged the board to create an environment in which racism within the force can be called out without fear of repercussions.

"As a Black professional in the field of public safety and justice, I can tell you very personally that there really is a need for Black and racialized leaders within (Toronto police) to feel supported and encouraged to stand out and call out racism," Edwards said.

She said a fragile trust has long existed between law enforcement and the Black community.

"I'd like to also reiterate we as an organization are very aware of the real and perceived danger posed by unchecked systemic racism, racial profiling and the disproportionate use of force against Black people in the western world," she said.

Some called for police to wear body cameras while others said that would be a waste of money.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 9, 2020.