Last updated Jan. 25,
Now that Toronto Police Constable James Forcillo has been found guilty of Attempted Murder in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, there is no more excuse for Chief Mark Saunders to remain silent on the matter of Forcillo’s testimony and how he described the mission and culture of policing in Toronto. Speaking to reporters after the verdict this afternoon, the Chief failed miserably to inspire confidence in his officers, or bolster public trust in the police service he supposedly leads.
Forcillo testimony describes broken police culture
On the stand and under oath, Forcillo testified it was his job as a police officer to “win” the engagement with Sammy Yatim and impose his will on the teenager. Further, Forcillo said his priority was to go home safe at the end of his shift.
Forcillo also testified he drew his service pistol and pointed it at Yatim immediately on arrival at the scene, in order to “de-escalate” the situation. An article published by Christie Blatchford in the National Post after the jury was sequestered provided information (not heard by the jury) that Forcillo had a history of drawing his weapon more often than most police officers (12 times in his three years of service).
Chief’s job is to lead – not manage
As I’ve argued before, both here on this blog, and on Newstalk1010, we must hear from Chief Saunders whether Forcillo’s impression of his mandate, his duty and his view of de-escalation techniques accurately represent those of the Toronto Police Service. I suspect and hope they do not. But, the Chief must clear this up immediately.
If Forcillo’s view does represent that of most Toronto officers, or the service as a whole, there is a major problem in the police service. Forcillo’s view is wrong. Policing should not be a “job” – it should be a noble vocation; a calling; a social responsibility and a huge privilege.
Pointing a weapon is an escalation of force, not a de-escalation tactic. If police don’t understand the difference, it’s a problem.
Chief’s performance a failure
Police Chief Mark Saunders spoke to the public at 2 pm Monday. I had hoped he would denounce Constable Forcillo’s testimony and set an example for his force. Saunders needs to lay down the law that the Forcillo-ethic will not be tolerated in Toronto and will be stamped out of the Toronto Police Service anywhere and everywhere it appears.
But, that’s not what he did. He focused on reviewing resources, tools, training available to officers He talked about better cooperation with mental health professionals. He avoided completely, the subject of culture and ethos in the service he leads. He brushed aside a specific question about Forcillo’s testimony related to him drawing his gun to “de-escalate” the situation, choosing to talk about de-escalation training provided to Toronto police. Asked, essentially, if the public should continue to trust mthe police service, its Chief had nothing meaningful to say. Instead, he babbled on about improving officers’ skills and abilities.
Saunders sounded like a union accountant – not a leader. Why would his officers follow him anywhere?
Updated at 1:44 pm to include new information that the Police Chief has scheduled a press conference to address the verdict.
Updated at 2:22 pm to reflect Chief Saunders’ statement to the media.