"I'm confident the community will be pleasantly surprised when it gets to know him," said Alok Mukherjee Tuesday on CBC Radio's Metro Morning. "He is open to change and made changes to the places where he has been unit commander."
The board Mukherjee chairs unanimously chose Saunders — a deputy chief with 32 years with the force — over another well-qualified deputy chief Peter Sloly.
The hiring of Saunders, who will be Toronto's fire black police chief, drew a mixed reaction.
Some see him as a highly qualified candidate with experience at various leadership positions in Canada's largest police force. Others expressed concern that Saunders,who appears to be the union's preferred candidate, may not be the best person to modernize the force, curtail rising policing costs and heal wounds with communities opposed to the controversial practice of carding.
Mukherjee said he watched Saunders make a point of meeting with people in troubled neighbourhoods during his days as a unit commander.
"Mark went into the audience, introduced himself, made appointments and saw those people in their places and earned their respect. He earned the praise of the very people who are critical of the police in that area. That is not easily done."
Mukherjee clashed at times with outgoing Chief Bill Blair but said Saunders is someone who embraces the concept of civilian oversight and "will be able to make change happen."