Police wrong to order new combat cars

Toronto Police Chief is ordering combat cars to replace old white patrol cars.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders today announced he was ordering a fleet of aggressive new “combat cars” to replace Toronto’s fleet of white police cars.  The new aggressively-styled dark grey cars will not cost taxpayers more money,

Police spokesperson Mark Pugash denied that new police cars would look like this.
Police spokesperson Mark Pugash denied new police cars would look like this.

On September 7, CityNews reported Toronto was going to replace its police vehicles with “stealth cars” similar to some of those currently used by the Traffic Division. (See picture right)

Mark Pugash, the Chief’s spokesperson, wasted no time disavowing this report. Either he didn’t know what he was talking about, or he was lying.  Neither is acceptable in a spokesperson and the Chief should replace him.

Why change the colour now?

Even if we believe the Chief when he says the new combat paint won’t cost more than the white livery used now, the unanswered question is: “why?”

Why do the cars need to be a different colour?  What is the operational requirement?

Toronto’s cops have an image – and an aggression – problem

I was an army officer for 14 years – for most of that period, I wore an olive green combat uniform.  Like most soldiers, I would have preferred to wear a camouflage uniform.  Because, it’s much more cool.  Yet, study after study found that camouflage uniforms offer little or no advantage to soldiers trying to hide from the enemy.  What those studies did find, however, is that camouflage uniforms make soldiers more aggressive.  Aggression is desirable in combat soldiers.  So, Canada eventually reneged and adopted camouflage for its combat uniforms.

Aggression is not desirable in police officers, however.  In 2000, Toronto Police swapped their light blue uniform shirts and navy blue trousers for an all-black uniform with military-style cargo pockets on the pants.  One reason for the change: “officer safety” – “Black gives better protection for officers in terms of cover,” said a staff-sergeant.  Of course, since officers wore dark blue/black kevlar vests over top of their blue shirts, this point was mostly bullshit.  Cops, though, loved the new togs for many reasons.  The pants were more practical and comfortable and, lets face it, black is way more cool than baby blue.  It’s also far more aggressive.

Toronto's police cars were bright yellow from the 1960's to 1986 when they were painted white.
Toronto’s police cars were bright yellow from the 1960’s to 1986 when they were painted white.

In the 1960’s Toronto Police adopted a standardized colour for its cars:  bright yellow.  They stayed this colour until 1986 when a white care became standard – for two reasons: cost (plain white was a standard colour and, therefore, cheaper) and concerns that the yellow paint contained a toxin that was hazardous to officer health.

It’s hard to argue that white cars are more aggressive than canary yellow cars, but they certainly are not less aggressive.  In fact, the only colour that may arguably be less aggressive than yellow, might be pink.

But, what’s the reason for changing colours now?  I reiterate: the Chief has offered no reason at all.

Chief is supposed to be leading a culture change

Chief Mark Saunders was hired with a remit to change the culture of the Toronto Police Service.  Public confidence in the service is waning, incidents of police violence are increasing and there is a growing general sense that police are far too aggressive in dealing with the public.  Saunders was hired to fix this.  So, why adopt a much more aggressive-looking police car at this time?  There is no doubt that an aggressive-looking car will have the same impact on officer behaviour that a more aggressive-looking uniform has on soldiers: they’ll become more aggressive.

Even if you don’t believe a more aggressive-looking car will increase officer aggression – you can’t possibly believe it will reduce aggression.  And, yet, reducing aggression is exactly what Saunders is supposed to be doing.

Police Services Board must act immediately

This plan is anathema to good policing.  The Toronto Police Service Board is charged with representing society’s best interests and providing civilian oversight to Toronto’s Police Service.  The Service is off-base with this change and heading down the wrong track.  Chair Andrew Pringle and the rest of the boar – which includes Toronto Mayor John Tory – must act immediately, to direct the police chief to reverse this decision.  If Saunders balks, then it’s time for him to go.  It will be proof he has neither the intention – or the capacity – to lead a positive culture change.

Sadly, there are few on the Police Services Board with the balls to take on the chief.  Neither the Chair, nor the Mayor, have demonstrated any real interest in providing appropriate oversight of this police service.  So, I won’t be holding my breath for them to respond appropriately on this issue.  I suspect the Combat Cars are here to stay.