June 8, 2020 / 10:15 PM / 25 days ago

Toronto's first black police chief announces surprise retirement

TORONTO (Reuters) - The first black police chief of Toronto, Canada’s largest city, abruptly announced his retirement on Monday, saying he would step down nearly a year early on July 31, just days after kneeling with protesters calling for police reform.

FILE PHOTO: Deputy Chief Police Mark Saunders speaks at a news conference in Toronto, Ontario, February 24, 2015. REUTERS/Aaron Harris/File Photo

Mark Saunders said he plans to spend more time with his family and also hoped to work on community initiatives “near and dear” to him.

Toronto’s city council voted in August 2019 to extend Saunders’ contract to April 2021.

Last week, Saunders knelt with protesters demonstrating against police brutality and decrying the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, while in the custody of Minneapolis police.

He told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation last week that Floyd’s death left him with a “horrible feeling” in his stomach.

“It still bothers me,” he said. “That is not what law enforcement is trained to do.”

Saunders has been with the Toronto Police Service for 37 years, holding the role of police chief since 2015.

“Working in homicide ... I see a lot of young black boys getting killed by young black boys,” Saunders told reporters on Monday. “Law enforcement deals with those symptoms and I want to help the cure of the disease.”

Saunders, who suffered from kidney disease and underwent a transplant in 2017, said health was not a factor in his decision to retire.

“We will continue to see the benefits of his work on modernization and culture change for years to come,” Mayor John Tory said in a statement.

On Monday, two Toronto city councillors put forward a motion to cut the city’s police budget by 10%, one of the councillors said in a tweet.

Calls to defund the police are growing across the United States and Canada, with Minneapolis’ city council voting to dismantle its police force entirely.

Saunders said that if funding was decreased, “then there needs to be other agencies that satisfy the needs of the community. In the absence of that, things would not work.”

Reporting by Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Bill Berkrot and Stephen Coates

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