- Getting police officers out of schools.Police opaqueness, not transparency
- Respond to, and investigate, in a timely fashion, violence, threats of violence and crime, criminal acts and public disorder
- Undertake, with other social institutions and agencies and civil society organizations, steps to prevent violence, crime, and criminal behaviour including, where appropriate, diverting individuals from the criminal justice system
- Co-ordinate activities with private security firms and other organizations within the security web, to create the most effective approach to a safer and more secure society.
- Extend assistance to victims of crime
- Safer Ontario ActProtect and respect human rights and the rule of law.
The Safer Ontario Act, which will replace the Police Services Act, has been introduced into the Ontario Legislature and has sparked laudatory editorials in the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. It’s the first major change of police legislation in 25 years, and if this means we won’t have another change for 25 years, then it’s a disappointing document. It’s a major missed opportunity.
The government decided to put most of its energy into amendments to legislation concerning police oversight – the Special Investigation Unit and the police complaint mechanisms – and little into questions of what police officers actually do and the mechanisms governing police.
Our brief, submitted 18 months ago, had recommended the following:
`Before considering the nature of an oversight body, it makes sense to reflect on the governance structure of the organization to be overseen. If there are problems with the governance body, they should be addressed, rather than expecting the oversight body to be stuck with them. This means that the place to begin oversight review in Ontario is with the police service board.
`In Ontario, police service boards are generally weak governing bodies. Too often boards defer to the chief on matters of policy and discipline. They rarely defend the public interest, (witness the Toronto Board continually denying information to the Toronto Star when it sought carding data, requiring the newspaper to go to the Divisional Court on appeal to get this information.) They rarely speak out for the public interest, and they rarely put forward proposals for debate and action (witness the fact that few citizens are aware of board meetings, and that most meetings are very short, without debate.) In fact members of police boards seem to have become expert at deflecting public interest and rationalizing police actions. It often seems that boards serve the interests of the police officers rather than the public interest…
`The result of this weak governance is that police officers and the organizations speaking for them (police associations) generally can act in an unfettered manner in protecting their own interests. The result is a serious power imbalance, one that can never be completely addressed by any oversight body. It also means that police often feel free to disregard oversight bodies – as the Toronto chief and senior staff often refused to respond to letters from the head of the Special Investigations Unit. It often means that when a problem does arise, oversight bodies are never strong enough to respond appropriately, and some more powerful process must be established – such as the special review by Mr. Justice Morden into the G20 police actions, or the study by Frank Iacobucci into the killing of Sammy Yatim.
`Thus we propose that as a first step, one must address the responsibilities of police service boards in Ontario to provide effective governance…. Specifically, we believe the following duties and responsibilities of boards should be made explicit:
- The duty to establish policies for the effective management and operation of the police service.
- The responsibility to direct the chief of police and monitor his or her performance and compliance with operational policies
- New duties in addition to those in Section 31 of the Police Services Act, including duties to:
(a) review and approve annual operating and capital budgets
(b) encourage community discussion of policing issues and lead public debate on policing issues and policies
(c) ensure active research on police activities and efficiencies
(d) regularly review the structure of the police force and the policies by which it operates
(e) ensure that before new technology is purchased or used by the police service that appropriate constraints are in place that the technology does not infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms; and
(f) ensure the police service is pursuing its core services.
`Currently the core police services as set out in Section 4 of the Police Services Act are muddled and do not reflect what officers actually do. To ensure that police service boards are governing effectively, those core police services should be better defined to be to:
`Further, the Police Services Act should specifically state that a Board is responsible for operational policy and for ensuring that officers comply with those policies and perform their duties accordingly. It should be stated that the chief reports to and is subordinate to the Board but the Board shall not direct the chief of police with respect to specific operational decisions or with respect to the day-to-day operations of the police force.
`As well, boards should be as transparent as possible in respect to the manner in which issues are dealt with and information is provided to the public. The Police Services Act should state that a Board will be transparent in respect to its activities and the information made available to it, recognizing the public’s right to know while protecting individuals who provide information and/or make complaints. Generally, the rules regarding the release of information by the Board and its members will be no different that rules which apply to a municipal council.
`It may be that Board members should be compensated more appropriately for these clear and explicit duties. ‘
The Bill does not include these changes. Instead, it concentrates on changes to the various review mechanisms as proposed by Mr. Justice Tulloch.
Why is all this energy devoted to looking at what police do after the fact – looking at police activities in a rear view mirror, as someone noted? It makes more sense to change the manner in which police are governed so that firm policies are established that police must follow – rather than criticizing officers after they have taken action. Perhaps looking at individual actions after they occurred continues the fallacy that if there is wrong-doing it is the result of individual officers (bad apples) rather than that the system needs changing. Whatever the reason, it is difficult to believe that improving police oversight, which is what the Safer Ontario Act is mainly concerned about, will lead to the kind of change policing needs.
Here are some observations about what is in the Bill:
The principles underlying police services have not changed (Section 11); we thought they should be updated and made more precise. The core duties of an officer have not changed (Section 109); we thought they should be substantially rewritten to reflect what police actually do and should do in today’s world. Several functions are stated as not being required to be provided by officers, but can be provided by private companies – crime scene analysis, forensics, physical surveillance and so forth (Section 14(3)).
Some changes are made to police service boards. They can be as large as nine members (an expansion from seven) with a majority appointed locally, the rest by the province; we had hoped they could be as large as 15 members. Training of board members is required (Section 35) and boards must reflect the community they represent in accordance with a diversity plan prepared by the municipal council (Section 28). Boards must prepare a strategic plan for the provision of policing (Section 39) with performance objectives and indicators, and municipal councils must prepare a `community safety and well-being plan’ (Section 189) with the assistance of an advisory committee.
But the functions of a police board are not changed. The language about the Board’s role in operational matters is still fuzzy (Section 40(4)); we had proposed that it clearly state Board’s responsibility for approving operational policy while keeping out of day to day decisions.
The ability of the chief to suspend an officer without pay is still very limited. The officer must be sentenced to jail, or be in custody, or charged with a serious offence not related to performance (Section 151(1)); we had proposed the same arrangement as in Alberta, namely at the discretion of the chief.
We had proposed that a Board be established that the OPP would report to (like a municipal police service board), but that is not in the legislation. A Provincial Police Government Advisory Council is established, but its job is to advise the minister (Section 72).
We also proposed that the mandate of the SIU be widened so it reports not just on possible criminal behavior, but to also that it consider whether in the circumstances the police acted reasonably, since police actions, while not criminal, are often unreasonable. This was not included in the Tulloch recommendations, and is not in the Bill.
We assume the Bill will be referred to committee where public comment is welcomed.
The Toronto District School Board has taken the most reasonable step in determining whether police officers (`School Resource Officers’) should remain in schools: it asked the students what they thought.
Some 15,500 students (of the 245,000 students in the TDBS system,) were surveyed as were 1060 staff (of 37,000.)
– 72 per cent of students said they didn’t have any interaction with the SRO at their school.
– 41 per cent felt that the SRO at their school was trustworthy, while 48 per cent said they were not sure.
– 42 per cent felt that the SRO at their school was helpful, while 53 per cent were not sure.
– 57 per cent said that having an SRO made them feel safer at school, 10 per cent disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 33 per cent were not sure.
When asked whether they would like the SRO Program to continue in their school, 47 per cent said yes, 7 per cent said no, while 46 per cent said they were not sure.
– 884 students indicated feeling uncomfortable or very uncomfortable interacting with the SRO at their school.
– 1055 said that the presence of the SRO made them feel uncomfortable attending school.
– 1715 said the presence of the SRO in their school made them feel intimidated.
– 2207 students noted that having an SRO made them feel like they were being watched or targeted at school.
The staff survey revealed:
– 159 indicated feeling uncomfortable or very uncomfortable interacting with the SRO at their school.
– 184 said that having an SRO made them feel like they were being watched or targetted at school.
Community meetings were also held. Staff reported that
“Across all sessions, parents and former students spoke of feeling not just uncomfortable but, in some cases, afraid when seeing armed police in schools. They described feeling intimidated, to varying degrees, by the presence of uniformed police officers, and many expressed particular concern regarding the fact that the SROs were armed. This was the most common theme, particularly in relation to Black students and more specifically Black male students. Participants felt that the SRO Program had not succeeded in its original mandate of building and strengthening relationships between police and youth, particularly Black youth. Finally, participants felt that the SRO program served to criminalize students. “
“Although we heard from a significant number of respondents who supported the presence of an SROs in their school, as well as many who were unaware of the SRO Program or felt unaffected by it, our priority must be to mitigate against the differentiated and discriminatory impact of the SRO program as described to us by our students and communities.
Our challenge ahead is to address the serious concerns brought forward by a significant number of our students, while continuing to keep our schools safe and welcoming for all. As such, while we are recommending the discontinuation of SRO in its current form, staff will continue to work with police on order to build a partnership that honours the voices of ALL students. This program exists in 45 schools. “
It appears a strong majority of the trustees on the TDSB will be supporting this recommendation when it comes to the Board in the near future. TPAC has consistently urged the Police Services Board to abandon the SRO program: we are pleased if the TDSB makes that decision.
- Getting police officers out of schools.Police opaqueness, not transparency
A year ago Toronto police encrypted radio transmissions, which meant the media was denied access and was unable to report immediately on police activities. Police had promised to let the media know of activities, but that promise was not kept. The media often found it could not get information why a large number of cruisers, for example, were gathered at one spot.
Now the Toronto police have established their own news outlet to ensure the public gets news that is `balanced.’ A three to five minute broadcast is done daily about police activities – stabbing, robberies, murders – as well as a good news story such as officers giving out vouchers for Circle K (the convenience store in gas stations) in the guise of supporting children.
It is unusual that a civic department is in the business of touting its own activities, but that’s what Toronto police are doing. And it is happening with public money – in the broadcast, in gathering and writing the stories, in staffing needed. This initiative has not been approved by the Board – one assumes the Board would say this is not something within its control. But it is another attempt by the police to remove itself from public scrutiny and oversight, acting as though it were a private company rather than as a public service.
- Police operating budget for 2018
For the first time in more than a decade, the Toronto police net operating budget for next year is no larger than it was this year. It was $1005 million for 2017 (just over one billion dollars) and it’s the same amount for 2018. The main reason why there was not the usual increase is because many more officers are retiring than are being hired.
But as TPAC argued before the Board, there’s no description of how things will be done differently next year to save money. It’s the usual unimaginative budget which assumes the police service is entitled to the money it wants.
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