Community Town Halls: What we Heard
Community engagement is a core part of the RBDC Strategy. From the beginning, the Service partnered with community organizations and engaged broadly with the public.
Between October 2022 and March 2023, community agencies in partnership with the Toronto Police Service (the Service) hosted six Race and Identity-based Community Town Halls throughout the city.
Over 300 people participated in-person, in addition to 1,180 live streams views.
Each town hall provided an interactive hybrid model for community members to ask questions, voice their concerns, and give feedback on the proposed 38 action items to address the outcomes of the 2020 Use of Force and Strip Search report.
Through the most recent series of town halls, we listened and engaged with the communities on what changes are needed, and where we can improve.
The discussions were vibrant, productive, and passionate, with the following seven key themes emerging from the brave conversations with community members.
Conversations about police training emerged in every town hall session. Community members:
- asked about the types of training officers received related to equity and systemic racism, mental health, emotional intelligence, cultural/religious awareness and the role of policing in the broader ‘school to prison’ pipeline;
- felt that mandatory training for experienced officers is equally important as for new recruits, noting that unlearning inequitable policing practices for long-tenured officers is critical; and,
- were interested in knowing who is involved developing the training curricula, how often it was reviewed and updated, and how involved the community was in this process. There was a consensus that community involvement in developing training is critical to help officers develop a stronger awareness of community challenges and the impact their actions have on community, through lived experiences.
Closely linked to the conversations around types of training, and training development, was community concern about what checks and balances are in place to ensure that training actually results in behaviour change and accountability.
Participants generally felt that officers receive a lot of training, but that there is no accountability for poor performance.
They asked “What happens after the training?”, and “How does the Service ensure that the training is effective?”, suggesting that the community be given the opportunity to provide feedback on how to manage officer performance and be transparent in the process.
Community members expressed their appreciation for Neighbourhood Community Officers (NCOs) and provided insights on how to continue to build and improve upon the NCO program.
A consistent message from community members is that they have a high regard for the NCOs and appreciate their role in building trust with communities. At the same time, a perceived high frequency of change in NCOs was identified as a roadblock and made communities feel like they must continually re-establish the groundwork of a relationship. Time invested is seen as vital to building and maintaining strong relationships. For further insights on how participants thought the Service can improve its NCO program, read the April 20, 2023 Follow our Progress update.
The town halls provided a space for many community members to share their own stories about being stopped by police and being treated disrespectfully. Participants raised concerns about interactions involving force that are currently considered “under the threshold” in the provincial use of force report. The current definition of “use of force” leaves out a range of interactions that participants expressed still have a significant impact on individuals.
Town hall participants were very interested in how Body Worn Cameras work, how they would know if the camera was on during an interaction with police, and if officers would turn them off at their convenience. NCOs participating in the sessions did demonstrations and explained how the cameras are used.
Participants also asked about what accountability mechanisms were in place to ensure that officers used BWCs properly during interactions, including questions about who reviews the footage, how it is used in decision-making, and how the public can get access to footage to support complaints.
There was an interest in the Service’s concrete efforts to diversify its workforce, with participants asking what the Service is doing to reach out to people (specifically youth) in communities with historically tense relationships with police to help them consider a career in policing, giving them an opportunity to effect change from within.
Participants repeatedly emphasized the importance of considering lived experiences and knowledge of local issues during the selection process for new recruits.
Youth were very aware of the connection between the job of policing and mental health and the importance of having resilient officers for the Service to fulfil its mission of community safety.
During the youth-focused town hall, participants expressed their concerns about officer mental health. They asked about the ways officers distress, how they deal with their own mental health struggles, and how the Service supports them to be fit to do their work effectively within the community.