Ryerson expects to incorporate special constables into campus security by late 2021
By Manuela Vega
Ryerson’s proposal for designated employees to have special constable status has been approved by the Toronto Police Service (TPS), according to executive director of Ryerson’s Community Safety and Security department Denise Campbell.
In a statement posted to Ryerson Today on Thursday, Campbell wrote that the university will move to a “hybrid model” of security service-delivery—a mix of existing security crew members, community engagement specialists and special constables—expected to be in place by late 2021.
The Eye last reported that the TPS’ decision on the initiative would likely be delayed due to COVID-19, according to an April 2 email from Ryerson’s public relations and communications specialist Brian Tran.
Ryerson submitted their proposal in August 2019 to the TPS to have special constables on campus, citing security incident data and safety concerns amongst community members expressed in consultations.
In the statement, Campbell wrote that Ryerson security guards are “limited in how they can respond to increasingly common security incidents on campus including incidents involving assault, assault with a weapon, vandalism and theft, as well as the enforcement of smoking by-laws.” Special constables are expected to have the authority of police in these incidents, said Community Safety and Security in a previous email. Special constables will report to both TPS and Ryerson.
“Special constables have policing power, so they can detain, they can make arrests [and] they can use force,” said associate professor of criminology at Ryerson Anne-Marie Singh.
Community Safety and Security previously told The Eye they anticipate special constables will be armed with pepper spray and a baton but it was yet to be confirmed as the department continued to “seek approvals from the Toronto Police Board and work through the details of the special constables program.” It’s unclear whether or not the arms have now been approved.
Rajean Hoilett, a member of Ryerson’s chapter of the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP), expressed concerns around policing on campus.
“It comes at the detriment of students and particular students. We’re talking about racialized people, Black people, Indigenous people, queer, trans people in our communities that we know are disproportionately at risk of police violence.”
In May 2019—prior to Ryerson’s proposal of special constables—the Black Liberation Collective Ryerson (BLC) called on the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) to diminish the presence of the Toronto Police on campus.
The Eye later reported that neither the Racialized Students’ Collective or BLC had been specifically consulted about the proposal. “We all know the TPS has a history of [using] force on Black people specifically,” said BLC organizer Hansel Igbavoa. “This is not new.”
Campbell acknowledged in the May 21 statement that “while some feel more secure with increased presence of uniformed personnel, others feel differently” and that Community Safety and Security will take this into account in implementing the new service-delivery model. All security personnel should be familiar with de-escalation tactics and will be trained and assessed on “unconscious bias, anti-racism, anti-oppression and diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said.
“Our approach will continue to evolve and be informed by other work being done at the university, including any recommendations that will be put forward in the anti-Black racism campus climate review,” Campbell wrote. Furthermore, a complaints and oversight process will be established to “accept and investigate complaints resulting from interactions with security personnel, including special constables.”
“Bringing in special constables should be the very, very last resort”
Community Safety and Security said that Ryerson made their security decision, in part, based on its finding that there is an increase in crime on campus. This finding was based on reports made on campus about minor offences—such as mischief, trespassing and drug use.
Ryerson also considered crime statistics from TPS when deciding to apply for special constable status. Singh said those statistics are not limited to crime on Ryerson campus though, and does not believe they should have been used to reach the security decision.
Singh also said there should have been greater consultations before applying for special constable status. At consultation meetings, Ryerson didn’t ask for alternative ideas despite asking for input from attendees, said Singh. She added that she wants to see the university engage with the Ryerson community in other manners, such as by holding sessions during the academic year—instead of in the summer when students are on break—and being aware of how solutions and issues are framed.
Singh advises that people “have an open conversation about the climate at Ryerson and people’s feelings of safety or unsafety, and treat that information in a critical fashion and reach out to people who have departments of expertise on this, and actually listen.”
According to Community Safety and Security, the university has plans to meet directly with faculty in the criminology department “to discuss the special constable program and to seek their input.”
“We’re criminalizing people—people who use drugs, people who are poor, racialized people—under a guise of community safety”
With reports, studies and legal decisions published around discriminatory policing in Toronto, Singh said Ryerson’s decision to apply for special constable status ignores evidence that policing and detention do not solve problems—they exacerbate them.
“Bringing in special constables should be the very, very last resort,” said Singh. “What we need are community solutions.”
Hoilet said different faculties on campus could offer alternatives to having special constables on campus.
“We don’t have a school of policing on our campus, but we do have a school of social work and people who are doing this kind of support work as part of their educational experience or professional development, who could have way more thoughtful approaches,” said Hoilett.
On May 14, CSSDP Ryerson hosted a webinar called “Policing in Postsecondary: No Cops on Campus.” A variety of speakers, including Singh, discussed alternative approaches to policing and how special constables may impact Ryerson students, faculty and the overall community.
The webinar also kicked off CSSDP Ryerson’s “No Cops on Campus” campaign.
CSSDP Ryerson chapter president Alannah Fricker said she’s concerned for people in the Ryerson community who may be arrested by special constables for “crimes of poverty,” such as theft.
“We’re criminalizing people—people who use drugs, people who are poor, racialized people—under a guise of community safety when we’re not making the community safer by incarcerating people,” said Fricker. “Whose safety? Safety for who?”
Correction: This article has been updated to clarify that it is unclear whether or not special constables have been approved to carry pepper spray and a baton. The Eye regrets this error.