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Tory's Toronto

Metro's Matt Elliott, formerly of Ford For Toronto, keeps the light shining on Mayor John Tory's city hall.

Toronto police choose authority over visibility: Elliot

It’s rare to see such a powerful disconnect spelled out so clearly with hard data. The public want the police to be visible. The police want authority.

Toronto police say the new design &quotachieves a balance between visibility — with white doors, reflective lettering and emergency lights — and professionalism."

Torstar News Service

Toronto police say the new design "achieves a balance between visibility — with white doors, reflective lettering and emergency lights — and professionalism."

Last year, Police Chief Mark Saunders faced public backlash after he unveiled a new, stealthy, dark grey design for Toronto police cars. In response, Saunders withdrew the design and launched a survey process to collect feedback from both the public and members of the Toronto Police Service.

The survey gave five colour choices: white, silver, grey, dark blue, and black.

Wow, right? What a rainbow of options.

Given the limited palette, it’s no surprise that the second version of the new design, shown off last week, doesn’t look a whole lot different than the stealth cruiser from last year. The first design was dark grey. The new design is dark grey with white doors.

Without further consultation, the cars have already been ordered.

This whole process has been as dreary and depressing as the colours. For a bunch of reasons.

First, it’s worth pointing out that these dark grey cars will be driven by the same police officers who, every winter, put out advisories suggesting pedestrians wear brightly-coloured, highly-visible clothing. You would think, given the recent emphasis on reducing road deaths, the police might want to take their own advice and drive brightly-coloured, highly-visible cars.

Speaking of visibility, let’s dig into the survey itself. Because it’s troubling.

In it, both members of the public and members of the Toronto Police Service were asked what characteristic they would like police cars to project in the community.

The most popular answer from members of the public? “Visibility.”

The most popular answer from members of the Toronto Police Service? “Authority.”

It’s rare to see such a powerful disconnect spelled out so clearly with hard data. The public want the police to be visible. The police want authority. Ruminate on that for a while.

Finally, this whole saga is frustrating because it reveals just how broken police governance is.

Initially, this decision involved no formal process. Saunders said no “deep thought” went into his first design. The survey process was meant as a sop to public backlash, but still there have been no detailed reports commissioned on the topic.

That means no public research done into how police car designs affect public safety and perception of police around the world. No written consideration of the high-visibility Battenburg markings used in Europe. Nothing about how this design aligns with Toronto’s Vision Zero Road Safety Plan.

No actual justification, just action.

That’s remarkable considering how often police issues like carding, presence in schools, the budget and the conduct of officers have been buried in endless studies and reports. Some things merit endless study before action is taken, while in other cases decisions are made in a snap.

If it weren’t already too late, I’d suggest taking the authority to design police cars away from the police entirely. Put the power in the hands of the public, third-party experts and elected city councillors.

If that means our police officers end up driving around in neon vehicles with bright stripes, so be it. There are a lot of things about Toronto’s police that could stand to be more visible.

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