NEWSTALK 1010 POLL: Public fear and mistrust of Toronto Police is growing

NEWSTALK 1010's Pulse of Toronto series reveals signs that perceptions of the police in this city are changing for the worse.

Results of our latest survey suggest fear and mistrust of Toronto's sworn protectors is growing.

The poll also finds that many people have doubts about whether the cops are really on the job to 'serve and protect.'

John Wright, a veteran pollster and the head of DART Communications, which carried out the survey for NEWSTALK 1010, says what leaps off the page are the results that suggest the public's trust in the police has plummeted.

"I was shocked to the these numbers," he says.

In 2003, a NEWSTALK 1010 poll found that just 34% of Torontonians indicated that if they were pulled over by the police and suspected of something they'd be "frightened by how they might treat me."
 
In last month's Pulse of Toronto survey, NEWSTALK 1010 asked a question similar question that cuts right to the point:
 
6 in 10 (61%) Torontonians indicate they'd "be scared" if they were "pulled over by a police officer for no apparent reason".

Those most likely to hold this point of view are women (69%) compared to men (53%), younger (69% aged 18 - 34) and middle-aged (66% aged 35 - 54), those with children (66%) and those with the lowest income (65%).

It is a sentiment that is most likely to exist in North York (69%) followed by those in Etobicoke (61%), downtown (60%), Scarborough (58%) and York/East York (57%).
 
Men are mostly likely to say that they wouldn't be scared (39%) and are more likely to be older (52% 55+), and with a higher household income (46% $75,000 - $99,000 per annum).

Those who are least likely to be scared are from York/East York (43%) followed by those from Scarborough (42%), (40%), Etobicoke (39%) and North York (31%).

Wright says he cannot be sure what is driving such a drastic drop in trust in the police, but he points out that recent high-profile cases of Toronto Police officers accused of behaving badly have spread through social media thanks to events that were caught on camera.

He mentions the 2013 streetcar shooting of Sammy Yatim, that led to Const. James Forcillo being charged with murder and found guilty of attempted murder.

NEWSTALK 1010 has also covered stories centred around footage of a police officer making an arrest telling a passerby that he could "get AIDS," or the viral video of Const. Tash Biati firing shots into a stolen car in the middle of a busy afternoon in the Distillery District.

Biati pleaded guilty to professional misconduct.

 

Are cops in Toronto above the law?

There's a sense that Toronto Police officers who behave badly will not be held accountable.

That's a belief that's held by half of the people who responded to our poll.

51% believe many/most/all Toronto police never really get punished for any wrongdoing they commit on or off the job.
 
Half (49%) believe that only a few/none Toronto police officers never really get punished for any wrongdoing they commit on or off the job.

Two thirds (63%) believe that when charged with misconduct or a criminal act many/most/all Toronto police get preferred treatment compared to any civilian who did the same thing.

A majority (54%) believe many/most/all Toronto police ignore an infraction committed by a fellow police officer on or off duty - like impaired driving.

These are troubling perceptions that also exist when the questions turn to general police conduct.

The results find there's a high degree of skepticism that cops will behave ethically in the line of duty.

A significant minority (44%) believe many/most/all Toronto police unfairly and discriminately racially profile black and dark-skinned Torontonians.

Just over one third (35%) believe many/most/all Toronto police rough up suspects,  and 3 in 10 (28%) believe many/most/all Toronto police lie in court or falsify notes to get a conviction.

A 'branding problem'

The eye-opening results surrounding public perceptions of the police are ones that need to be addressed by police leadership, according to Wright.

He calls the issues facing the cops in this city "a serious branding problem" and suggests that while police leaders should not seek to "make an example" of officers who violate the public's trust, Wright stresses that when it comes to repairing those bridges with the people of Toronto, it is important to make it clear that the right people are being held accountable for their behaviour.

 

Union: Cops are frustrated by negative perceptions

Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack tells The Jerry Agar Show his members are "frustrated" by the negative perceptions officers encounter.

He refutes the suggestion that those perceptions have been earned, pointing out that stories of officers in trouble with the law make their way into the news and social media from across the US border.

On the other hand, McCormack admits that there are bridges to be repaired and suggests that police commanders could do a better job of being in the spotlight more to combat "negative narratives."

The police union leader says his officers are concerned that people's perceptions of the police might be changing.

 

DART Insight conducted an online survey of 814 Torontonians September 16-19, 2017. The poll is considered accurate +/- 3.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20. A full report with data tables can be found at dartincom.ca/polls.