Saunders, currently a deputy chief and also the officer in charge of the TO2015 Pan Am Games, will take over from outgoing Chief Bill Blair. Police are set to officially announce the news on Monday morning at 10 a.m.
Saunders will be the city's first black police chief, stepping into the role during a turbulent time between the force and some minority communities. Blair oversaw the implementation of the city's controversial carding policy, which allows officers to collect information from residents even if they have committed no offence.
The carding policy was originally part of a community outreach program intended to improve ties between the police service and marginalized communities. The effect has largely been the opposite, spurring greater distrust and has forced police to re-evaluated the policy altogether.
Members of the police board have expressed a desire to have the city's diversity reflected among the top echelon of the police command structure.
Homicide unit veteran
Saunders has had a 32-year career with Toronto police, where he worked with the force's gang and drug squads and also oversaw the homicide division — one of the largest in Canada.
According to his police biography, Saunders also created the force's investigative cybercrime unit, known as "C3," and was one of the authors of the Police and Community Engagement Review, which is now commonly known as the PACER report.
Peter Sloly, another deputy chief and a contributor to the PACER report, was also considered for the force's top job.
CBC Radio's Metro Morning discussed what having a black police chief could mean for the city last week.
Anthony Morgan, a lawyer at the African Canadian Legal Clinic, said having an accomplished officer like Saunders at the helm could make an "important difference."
According to Morgan, a black chief may not stop many of the negative interactions many black residents – especially young people – have with police including racial profiling and carding. But, he said, the change in leadership could diminish the "gaps of distrust" between black communities and the police.
Outgoing Chief Blair also resided over his force's handling of the G20 protests in 2010. He was criticized for controversial tactics used by the riot squad, including kettling and what some have called a clear abuse of police powers.