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.
About the authors
Alok Mukherjee was the second-longest serving chair in the history of the Toronto Police Services Board. He was head of several provincial and national associations of the police boards and worked with three Toronto mayors as well as five provincial and four federal ministers responsible for public safety. He currently holds a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at Ryerson University. He lives in Toronto, ON.
TIM HARPER has been a journalist for forty years, thirty-four of which were spent with The Toronto Star. He ran bureaus in Vancouver, Washington, and Ottawa and spent more than five years writing a national affairs column syndicated from coast to coast. His previous book, coauthored with Alok Mukherjee, was Excessive Force, on the politics of the Toronto police force. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Excerpt: Excessive Force: Toronto's Fight to Reform City Policing (by (author) Alok Mukherjee & Tim Harper)
“Policing in North America is not merely at a crossroads. When it comes to maintaining the confidence and trust they need for their legitimacy, our police are teetering at the edge of the cliff.”
—from chapter 10, The Way Forward
“...None of the troubling issues Mukherjee describes have been adequately dealt with in Canada, so this is an important book that should be read by every Canadian. Last year, 65 Canadians died due to contact with the police...We need to do better, and this passionately felt and closely argued book offers a way to begin necessary reforms. Highly recommended.”
Tom Sandborn, Vancouver Sun
Mukherjee documents the major societal changes in Canada over the decades that have had a profound impact on policing and beyond. We must continue to improve our social, health and criminal justice systems—and the interrelationships among them—and make significant change. This book is a must-read for concerned citizens, politicians, members of civilian oversight of policing bodies and policing personnel.
Cathy Palmer, former President, Canadian Association of Police Governance, and former Chair, Edmonton Police Commission
Excessive Force is a must-read for everyone who imagines that all is right with Canada’s police forces today. Alok Mukherjee’s frank description unveils problems with hypermasculinity, racism, insensitivity to mental illness, and deep-rooted conflicts of interest. The pressing challenges he documents are urgent and undeniable.
Constance Backhouse, Professor of Law, University of Ottawa, author of Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada
This is a startling book; searing, honest and powerful. No one comes off well: the police, the former police chiefs, the police association, the current mayor … they all emerge as manipulative and self-serving. And who loses? The public, especially racialized and Indigenous communities. The stench of racism, in many chapters, is ubiquitous, from shootings to carding. It’s a mesmerizing read.
Stephen Lewis, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations
“...The book dramatically captures how entrenched and influential the police service is in Toronto and how its leadership effectively manipulates public opinion and public officials to ensure that any change is slow to come - if it comes at all...unsparing and illuminating in its depiction of how the powerful in Toronto protect their interests above all else. Excessive Force comes at a time when there has been a surge in interest in many of the issues that Mukherjee grappled with...but this particular volume offers a unique perspective. - few shed light on how politicians and other public officials interact with police leadership to the extent this one does...behind-the-scenes accounts will be of interest to Toronto political junkies...to people focused on social-justice issues. Mukherjee’s passionate arguments are unlikely to alter the power dynamics...but his willingness to point out these problems and his suggestions about how to remedy them are laudable.”
Quill & Quire