Sewell: Do cops adequately police themselves?

By John Sewell –

What should happen when senior police managers are unwilling to fully prosecute criminal cases in a timely fashion and their lack of action results in cases being thrown out of court? And what should be done when the cases involve police officers accused of wrongdoing? These are the questions now hovering over the Toronto police force.
In 2001 there were such serious concerns about rogue elements within the force that a senior RCMP officer, John Neily, was called in to investigate. He put together a team of two dozen Toronto police investigators and half a dozen RCMP officers, and they worked for almost three years, finally recommending in 2004 that charges be laid against 12 officers. Six officers were formally charged. This January, the charges were thrown out on the ground that the case had taken too long—four years—to come to trial. The Crown has now appealed that decision. but none of the charges have been proven in court. But a lot more information has now emerged about these cases. Neily’s report from 2004 has been located and made public by CBC Radio ( and it outlines exactly what it thought the officers involved in the Downtown drug squad were doing.

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TO CLARIFY: Neither The Bulletin nor John Sewell had or have any independent information about the actions of the Toronto police officers involved in the charges and did not intend to suggest that John Schertzer or any of the other officers concerned were guilty of anything.  The comments being made in the column were directed solely at the conduct of senior officers of the police force.  The newspaper and John Sewell regret any misunderstanding resulting from the column.

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One can expect rogues in any large organization, but the function of management is to identify them and expose them. One of the most senior officers charged, John Schertzer, was the subject of internal investigations that alleged serious problems with the manner in which he practised policing in 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2001, but senior managers never took effective action to dismiss him or bring him under control. He was the subject of 20 complaints from members of the public, but all complaints were dismissed. One manager demoted Schertzer only to find that the next day, over his head, the deputy chief appointed Schertzer to the Downtown drug squad where the most serious allegations against him occurred. Neily says that there were other problems in the police force apart from Schertzer and the Downtown drug squad, but he was not authorized to investigate those.
Then, after the charges were laid, the police force refused to provide the resources needed to prepare the cases for trial. I have read the March 2006 letter from the senior crown attorney working on the case, Milan Rupic, and he makes it clear that significant work was required on the part of police yet it appeared not to be happening, and that the police force was not allocating the resources required. Obviously, the police force never did put the resources needed into the prosecution of these six officers—which is why in January the judge threw them out. No senior manager from the Toronto police force is willing to talk publicly about this worrisome state of affairs. As usual, they hid behind the claim that the matter is “before the court.”
Few expect the Court of Appeal to overturn the decision to dismiss the charges, since four years is a very long time for charges to come before a court—and costly to the public too, since the officers remained on full pay during this time or until they resigned, which several did. Some have said a public inquiry is needed, but there’s enough information available to state clearly that the problem lies with senior management of the police force, and an inquiry won’t rectify that problem. What I think is needed is tough action by the Toronto Police Services Board and the chief of police showing the steps that are being taken to significantly improve police management and make it much more transparent. It’s a sad day when one can’t have trust in the police force because senior managers turn a blind eye to rogue officers in spite of many complaints over many years. That trust can only be regained if police management shows how it is changing the way it manages police affairs.