Saturday, November 27, 1999


p. H6.


Blair best choice for police chief

Chief David Boothby steps down next February after five years at the helm of Canada's largest municipal police force.

The seven members of the Toronto police services board are in the final stages of selecting a successor.

The candidates are impressive. The choice the board members make in the next few days will have an important impact on the life of this city.

It used to be that a successful chief needed only to be a good crime-fighter.

Today, Toronto demands much more from its police chief. A good chief must be a skilled manager able to oversee a budget which tops $500 million and a workforce of 7,000 officers and civilians.

He or she must be a good communicator with the authority to lead the community during a crisis; a person of the highest integrity who will win and retain the respect of both officers and the public, and someone who is sensitive to the needs of a complex, multiethnic city.

The city must be accountable to the public through the civilian police board and co-operate with the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which investigates all serious injuries and deaths involving police.

At the same time, the head of the force must be independent and willing to stand up to politicians who want to use law enforcement for their own ends. this means resisting the pressure from the provincial government to sweep the poor and the homeless off the streets.

We expect the new chief to be honest about crime — Toronto is a safe city and getting safer — and not exploit people's fears for a fatter police budget.

We want more community policing. Not flash-in-the-pan summer crime crackdowns, but a sustained effort to build relationships between police and residents across Toronto.

Boothby has succeeded on some of these fronts. He has been a fair-minded chief, a man of integrity who placed the emphasis on community policing with mixed success.

But there have been shortcomings.

One serious difficulty has been his failure to respond effectively to the rhetoric and actions of Craig Bromell, the president of the police union.

Too often, there was stony silence from police headquarters when Bromell stepped over the line, using, for example, racist ads to promote law and order in the provincial election; intimidating council members who weren't police boosters, and threatening job action during recent contract talks.

We expect the new chief to build a constructive relationship with the union boss. But when Bromell blusters, we also expect a firm and swift response from the chief.

Clearly, we have set high standards for the next leader of the Toronto police force. So who among the leading candidates is best suited to be chief?

The front-runner is a man who didn't even apply for the job — Julian Fantino.

Fantino, a veteran of the Toronto force and now head of the force in York Region, lost out to Boothby for the chief's job five years ago.

While Fantino plays coy about his interest in the job this time, board members consider him a serious candidate and for good reason.

He's a principled leader who is respected in policing circles.

Since assuming the leadership of the troubled York force just over a year ago, he has taken tremendous strides to improve the organization and the morale of its officers.

His no-nonsense style does ruffle feathers but he is effective.

We remain troubled by Fantino's strong opposition to the SIU, the civilian agency which investigates all incidents of serious injuries and deaths involving police.

The once-poisoned relationship between the Toronto force and the SIU has improved markedly over the last year. We don't need the new chief to revive old fights.

Another leading candidate is Deputy Chief Michael Boyd. He has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks from staff sergeant five years ago. today he oversees almost 2,000 officers in the central part of the city. He's enthusiastic and has a reputation for getting things done. However, he has failed to articulate a clear vision for the force.

Deputy Chief Steve Reesor is also a strong contender. He holds a post-graduate business degree. He's an intelligent police administrator who combines the skills of crime-fighter and chief executive.

Yet he was slow to act when problems emerged in a key area under his command — the firearms unit. This has cast a shadow over his candidacy.

But one candidate, Superintendent William Blair, stands out from the rest. He's young, just 45. And he is one rank below Boyd and Reesor. But his fresh outlook and strong leadership skills make him the Star's choice.

He has shown that he can earn the trust of the community and the respect of officers working under him. And he has handled some of the toughest assignments in the department.

Blair is not well known outside the force. But that could be an advantage. He brings no baggage and could introduce a new style of command to the force.

He has been on the force for 23 years. He began his career patrolling the streets of Regent Park, moved to undercover drug work and then into the ranks of administration.

He's perhaps best known as the officer sent in to command 51 Division after officers there staged a wildcat strike in 1995.

His job was to restore order and pride among the officers and regain the respect of the community.

He succeeded through a mix of discipline, fair-mindedness and community policing initiatives, which won over residents.

Like Mayor Mel Lastman, we believe the next chief should come from within the force.

Blair exemplifies the depth of talent and pride found among its senior officers.

In the Star's view, he should be the new chief of Toronto police.

Toronto Police clippings… [Fiona Stewart]

Created: October 11, 2000
Last modified: October 11, 2000
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