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Excessive Force: Toronto's Fight to Reform City Policing

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Alok Mukherjee was the civilian overseer of the Toronto police between 2005 and 2015, during the most tumultuous decade the force had ever faced. In this provocative and highly readable collaboration with Tim Harper, former Toronto Star national affairs columnist, Mukherjee reveals how Police Chief Bill Blair changed the channel after the police-killing of Sammy Yatim. He Alok Mukherjee was the civilian overseer of the Toronto police between 2005 and 2015, during the most tumultuous decade the force had ever faced. In this provocative and highly readable collaboration with Tim Harper, former Toronto Star national affairs columnist, Mukherjee reveals how Police Chief Bill Blair changed the channel after the police-killing of Sammy Yatim. He explains how society has given police tacit approval to cull people in mental health crisis and pulls the curtain back on a police culture which avoids accountability, puts officer safety above public safety, colludes on internal investigations and pushes for use of force over empathy and crisis resolution. The book takes the reader inside the G20 debacle; the police push for an ever-growing budget; the battle over carding, which disproportionately targeted blacks; the police treatment of its own members in mental health distress; and the battles with an entrenched union that pushed back on Mukherjee’s every move toward reform. In spite of, or as a result of all this, Mukherjee played a leading role in shaping the national conversation about policing, sketching a way forward for a new type of policing that brings law enforcement out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty-first century. There is no shortage of “inside” police books written by former cops. Here is a rare title—not only in Canada but the Western world—written from the community’s perspective.


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Alok Mukherjee was the civilian overseer of the Toronto police between 2005 and 2015, during the most tumultuous decade the force had ever faced. In this provocative and highly readable collaboration with Tim Harper, former Toronto Star national affairs columnist, Mukherjee reveals how Police Chief Bill Blair changed the channel after the police-killing of Sammy Yatim. He Alok Mukherjee was the civilian overseer of the Toronto police between 2005 and 2015, during the most tumultuous decade the force had ever faced. In this provocative and highly readable collaboration with Tim Harper, former Toronto Star national affairs columnist, Mukherjee reveals how Police Chief Bill Blair changed the channel after the police-killing of Sammy Yatim. He explains how society has given police tacit approval to cull people in mental health crisis and pulls the curtain back on a police culture which avoids accountability, puts officer safety above public safety, colludes on internal investigations and pushes for use of force over empathy and crisis resolution. The book takes the reader inside the G20 debacle; the police push for an ever-growing budget; the battle over carding, which disproportionately targeted blacks; the police treatment of its own members in mental health distress; and the battles with an entrenched union that pushed back on Mukherjee’s every move toward reform. In spite of, or as a result of all this, Mukherjee played a leading role in shaping the national conversation about policing, sketching a way forward for a new type of policing that brings law enforcement out of the nineteenth century and into the twenty-first century. There is no shortage of “inside” police books written by former cops. Here is a rare title—not only in Canada but the Western world—written from the community’s perspective.

37 review for Excessive Force: Toronto's Fight to Reform City Policing

  1. 4 out of 5

    Harman Sandhu

    I was going for a walk with my friend at around midnight in my hometown of Whitby, Ontario in 2014 when a police cruiser pulled up aggressively beside the curb of the sidewalk we were on. Two police officers exited the cruiser, blocked our path, and said they wanted to ask us questions. My initial reaction: fear. As an Indian immigrant of Sikh faith, my experiences in a post-9/11 Canada had taught me that my skin color and appearance were something I had to keep in mind when engaging with instit I was going for a walk with my friend at around midnight in my hometown of Whitby, Ontario in 2014 when a police cruiser pulled up aggressively beside the curb of the sidewalk we were on. Two police officers exited the cruiser, blocked our path, and said they wanted to ask us questions. My initial reaction: fear. As an Indian immigrant of Sikh faith, my experiences in a post-9/11 Canada had taught me that my skin color and appearance were something I had to keep in mind when engaging with institutions. I answered their questions; there had been a disturbance in the area. I assured them that I didn’t know anything and was just returning to my friend’s home. Before leaving, they requested to see IDs. We handed over our driver licenses which an officer took into the cruiser and entered into their computer before letting us go. I realized much later that I had been victim to the questionable practice of “carding” during that experience. This is one of the issues discussed by Dr. Alok Mukherjee in Excessive Force: Toronto’s Fight to Reform City Policing. Mukherjee served as the Chair of Toronto Police Services Board from 2005 to 2015 and set the tone for the book by asking: “quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchers?”. Major events in the history of policing in Toronto are discussed such as the carding crisis, the G20 riots, Sammy Yatim’s death, policing budget, Andrew Loku’s death, and police accountability; all through multiple city mayors and police chiefs. A long history of fighting injustice runs deep in Mukherjee’s DNA and his perspective on policing issues is one that champions social justice while prioritizing community safety. Excessive Force gives an invaluable insight into police governance and the barriers to improving policing in Canada. Public and community health requires a healthy and trustworthy relationship between community members and police officers. I reached out to Mukherjee and asked him the intended impact of this book. He said it was not just meant to be a “tell-all”, but a more critical look at recent events in the hopes that readers further engage with these topics to enact real change. A major strength of this book is that not only does Mukherjee share details regarding many events that have occurred in Toronto’s recent history of policing, he does so from an intimate and personal perspective having gone through instances such as the G20 summit and policing mishap. Told by the Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, or in other words, the civil servant in charge of governing the police, is deeply profound and Mukherjee does an excellent job of bringing the reader into his “shoes”. Furthermore, Mukherjee also shares personal conversations and experiences he’s had with many well-known individuals. Ironically, this is also the book’s greatest weakness. There is potential for a biased view and unfortunately there is no personal telling of these stories from the perspective of individuals such as previous Toronto police chief Bill Blair, or mayors David Miller, Rob Ford, or John Tory. Thus, it may seem like from Mukherjee’s perspective, there are many barriers and issues within the current state of policing, but asking the individuals listed above about how they feel about these issues may lead to a different conversation. Ultimately, the personal telling by Mukherjee, a civil servant, is what makes this book so unique in this genre. I recommend this book to anyone who feels compelled to learn more about policing practices and barriers to correcting the system. Anyone who lives in Toronto or the Greater Toronto Area is likely to have come across instances such as the G20 summit or death of Sammy Yatim, and this book adds a truly unique perspective to those events. We are all members of communities which are policed, and some of us who are people of color, Indigenous, or face mental health issues are likely to be personally affected by the topics discussed in this book. The future of policing in Toronto and Canada is uncertain; there are issues with inflating budgets, marginalized members of society are disproportionately investigated by the police, and neighborhood-level policing is continuously evolving and becoming more militarized. All the while Toronto is experiencing some of its worst crime and gun violence ever. We would be wise to not only listen to Mukherjee’s ideas about what needs to be fixed before the situation gets worse, but to act on them as well.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Every Torontonian should read this.

  3. 5 out of 5

    SCOTT GOODISON

  4. 5 out of 5

    Vivek

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

  6. 4 out of 5

    James

    This is a thorough analysis of off policing in Toronto and well worth the read.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Shyloe Fagan

  8. 5 out of 5

    S2

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tim

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mandy Wojcik

  11. 4 out of 5

    Alice Sellwood

  12. 5 out of 5

    william brown

  13. 4 out of 5

    Siera

  14. 5 out of 5

    Catherine

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  16. 4 out of 5

    Skr

  17. 4 out of 5

    Scott G

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jay

  19. 5 out of 5

    Vontel

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jane Mulkewich

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anuradha

  22. 4 out of 5

    Victoria

  23. 4 out of 5

    Roz

  24. 5 out of 5

    Espe Currie

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jim

  26. 4 out of 5

    PSUDST

  27. 5 out of 5

    Sara

  28. 5 out of 5

    Taylor Thompson

  29. 5 out of 5

    Marianne

  30. 4 out of 5

    Patrick

  31. 5 out of 5

    Elena

  32. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Kindred

  33. 5 out of 5

    jmen

  34. 5 out of 5

    Calum

  35. 4 out of 5

    Tuesday

  36. 5 out of 5

    Gen L

  37. 5 out of 5

    Nick Stern

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