Forcillo trial sinks Chief Saunders

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders (L) and Cst. James Forcillo (R)

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.

1 Comment

  1. Finally, an article that calls the Chief’s press conference and approach for what it is. I was shocked. One of his officers had just been found guilty by a jury of attempted murder. Yet Saunders remained on Forcillo’s side. He visibly bristled at the suggestion Forcillo had been convicted (a formality that has yet to take place) and took his defence counsel’s position that this was merely the beginning of a long road and the matter was far from over. Excuse me, but the guy was found guilty of the second-most serious indictable offence in the Criminal Code. He had a responsibility to say, you know what, this guy does not represent the force, we train our officers to de-escalate, clearly the jury has spoken after a long trial and accordingly Forcillo as of now is no longer a police officer and has been terminated, etc. He did nothing of the kind. Indeed, he acquiesced in the “black SUV police escort” whisking away of Forcillo from the court house, sanctioned the intimidating police presence in and around the court house in the closing days of the trial, all the wrong things. He adopts the standard Toronto Blair-ite image of the police as thugs in uniform, above and in contempt of the law. I’m glad you called it, that the trial and his reaction to the verdict makes him completely ineligible to bring the necessary change to the rotten police culture in this city.

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