Update on special constables
When Ryerson’s head of security, Denise Campbell, started digging into the numbers that turned up on her desk, she found one statistic that surprised her: Calls to the WalkSafe program have doubled in the past year, from 400 to 800.
The WalkSafe program provides community members with a security escort to walk with them between destinations on campus and in the surrounding area.
This got Campbell thinking: if so many more people are feeling unsafe on campus, what steps can she take to try to reverse that trend?
Ryerson announced last week it has sent a proposal to Toronto police to integrate special constables onto the current security team.
“People are not feeling safe walking between buildings at night… we were experiencing more overdoses in our washrooms and in our stairwells… they’re seeing folks sitting in Lake Devo injecting narcotics… the perception is that they felt unsafe,” Campbell said.
There has been a “dramatic increase” in a short period of time in crimes committed by trespassers on campus, according to Campbell. This includes illegal drug use in public places, theft, mischief, vandalism and assaults with a weapon.
“One of the issues with the current security model is the lack of authority campus security currently have,” said Campbell. “Our campus security could respond to some calls, but we didn’t have any authority to act on them. When we call on Toronto police, we sometimes wait hours for them to respond to a theft call because they are responding to a more serious crime.”
When asked about the proposed change to security, president Mohamed Lachemi said, “Our biggest challenge on campus is the safety of our community members, given that downtown Toronto is becoming a little bit difficult to manage. At least this way, they (special constables) can better co-ordinate with Toronto Police Service.”
Campbell added that members of the security team lack authority to deal with types of societal issues, including homelessness, addiction and mental health, that they often encounter on campus.
“We recognize there was a gap on campus, (with what) the police will respond to, what we (security) will respond to and what we can’t respond to,” she said.
But Anne-Marie Singh, a criminology professor and policing expert at Ryerson, does not support bringing individuals with law enforcement powers on campus.
“Bringing in special constables turns issues that are really social problems into legal problems,” Singh said. “ Why do we need somebody with extra law enforcement powers to deal with these issues? Seeing issues as violations of the law, rather than seeing them as social problems, is likely going to be reflected in the behaviour of special constables.”
Last spring, multiple consultation sessions were held to get feedback about how Ryerson community members, staff, and students felt about Ryerson’s security services. According to Campbell, the consensus from these groups was that security was in need of an upgrade to deal with the increase of crimes on campus.
Singh attended one of these focus group sessions. “I have never heard of a clamouring from Ryerson community members to have security officers that have more powers,” she said. “What I’ve heard is that there are concerns about how security is exercising the powers that they have already, and there’s concern about accountability.”
In 2010, Ryerson released a report from the anti-racism task force which looked at the relationship between campus security and members of the Ryerson community. The report included concerns about the behaviour of security related to racism and racial profiling.
Nine years later, Singh made note that the same concerns which came out of the 2010 report were also being voiced at these recent consultations.
“There are long-stemming concerns from marginalized and racialized groups of students, staff, faculty about interactions with security and that’s going to be even more heightened with uniformed, law-enforcement minded individuals being on -campus,” Singh said. “It’s only going to heighten these concerns. It doesn’t address them; it does the opposite.”
When asked whether putting a new “police-type” presence on campus could make some community members feel they are being watched, Campbell said: “For folks that may feel uncomfortable with having special constables on campus, I welcome the conversation, hopefully to alleviate any fears or concerns.”
According to Campbell, special constables will have the authority to make arrests and issue tickets, under multiple provincial statutes and municipal bylaws, including the Trespass to Property Act, the Mental Health Act, certain sections in the Liquor Licence Act, and others.
Singh described the powers of special constables as “quite serious,” saying, “they’re about enforcing the law, they give you extra powers to detain people, to search people.”
She added: “Why do we think we can arrest our way out of petty theft and crimes on campus, or opioid use?”
Campbell said bringing special constables on campus means making sure they have a philosophy of people first.
“We don’t want these hardcore, hard-nosed, special constables just enforcing. We want them to be a part of the community landscape, to get to know the folks on the campus,” she said.
According to Campbell, constables will receive higher wages and specialized training in comparison to their security counterparts. They’ll have different uniforms as well, with their title being identified on the crest, vests and hats. Pending review from the Toronto Police Service Board, constables will not be armed. However, they will be equipped with naloxone kits, handcuffs, pepper spray and a baton.
The proposal is still in the process of being reviewed by the Toronto Police Service Board. If approved, special constables could be on campus by winter 2020.
“At this time, I feel very confident. If it is approved, it’s going to be managed very tightly with high oversight and accountability,” said Campbell.
“I make a promise and commitment to the campus community that every complaint will be addressed, every issue will be addressed [with] transparency and accountability, I stand by that.”