Deputy police chief Peter Sloly on running to succeed Bill Blair, and the first item on his agenda if he does: race
As deputy police chief, you are frequently mentioned as a favourite to succeed Bill Blair. Do you want the job?
William Blair is the best chief we’ve ever had. I’ll apply, but otherwise I’m focused on my role as deputy chief.
What would it mean to you to be Toronto’s first black chief?
I would hope that in a city as progressive as ours, my race would be just one of the many factors that would make me suited to the job. I have an MBA, experience as a United Nations peacekeeper in Kosovo and years of expertise in front-line community policing.
You were born in Jamaica and moved here at age 10. You made the Canadian men’s soccer team but played in just one game. How badly did you blow it?
Ha. Well, that was Cyprus in 1984, and we tied 0–0. I was a defenceman, so that’s a success in my books. Eventually, I blew out my back—my L4 and L5–S1 vertebrae are now metal—and I had to re-evaluate my career choices.
I’ll spare you the RoboCop jokes. Why did you choose policing?
I just knew I wanted to serve and protect.
Can you still keep up with the physical demands of the job?
I can run, jump, fight, shoot and handcuff—or sit in a chair for 10 hours a day, which is mostly what I do.
Have you ever shot anyone?
No, thankfully, though I’ve had my finger on the trigger twice. Most officers have never had to fire their guns.
You’ve risen up the TPS ranks extremely fast—you’re just 48. How did you do it?
I’m not sure. I’ve always tried to stay busy. I get up at 5 a.m., hit my Twitter feed and then the gym, then wake up my eight-month-old son and eight-year-old daughter—bottle, diapers, food. I’m in my office by 8:30 a.m. and I leave 10 to 12 hours later.
Who’s your guilty-pleasure Twitter follow?
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but Jeff Probst, the host of Survivor. I always PVR it. When I retire, I want to be a contestant. I already know what I’d bring: a picture of my wife and kids.
What’s the most important issue facing the Toronto Police Service in 2015?
The same as in 1988 when I joined: race, racism and diversity.
Do you defend carding, the practice of stopping people and questioning them even if they’re not doing anything wrong?
I don’t defend it; I’m trying to reform it. The Police Act requires us to interact with the public. Carding provides data on who’s being stopped and by which officers.
In the second half of 2013, 23 per cent of those carded were identified as black, yet only eight per cent of Toronto’s population is black.
Disproportionality is a fact, but based on many factors, including gender, age and, yes, race. Our 140 neighbourhoods are not homogeneous. Racial bias on the police force is also a fact. What we have to do in the future is use the carding data to identify trends and, if necessary, correct officers’ biases.
How do you do that?
It could range from a conversation, to retraining, to intercultural development programs, to a tribunal, to outright dismissal, depending on the situation.
And what about not hiring racist people in the first place?
We’re looking into cybervetting, so that we can check to see if a candidate has posted concerning content online. We’re also conducting a pilot program on body-worn cameras for officers.
Growing up here, were you ever harassed because of your skin colour?
Yes. I understand what it feels like to be followed by store security, to get pulled out of a line for a secondary search, to hear my brother tell me he was blocked in by two police cars and interrogated when all he was doing was sitting and eating a roti with a friend in Scarborough. Policing is an institution that is always a little bit behind the times when it comes to diversity and human rights. We’ve done a much better job in the last 10 to 15 years, but there’s still a long way to go.