Reflecting the communities they serve

Morley Lymburner
November 30, 2010
By Morley Lymburner
The Ontario Provincial Police recently took over a southern Ontario police agency. The takeover was not hostile, which is commendable (and unusual) over the past 20 years in Ontario. The municipal service quietly surrendered 100 years of service to the community. I was struck that the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) report doesn’t state why the service was disbanded. There was no mention of its shortcomings, if any, or steps taken to remedy them. Also not explained was how the forced removal will improve service to the community or if it can ensure the long-range viability of “customer satisfaction.”

The Ontario Provincial Police recently took over a southern Ontario police agency. The takeover was not hostile, which is commendable (and unusual) over the past 20 years in Ontario.

The municipal service quietly surrendered 100 years of service to the community. I was struck that the Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) report doesn’t state why the service was disbanded. There was no mention of its shortcomings, if any, or steps taken to remedy them. Also not explained was how the forced removal will improve service to the community or if it can ensure the long-range viability of “customer satisfaction.”

The two people assigned to decide whether the service should be disbanded had no understanding of the actual day to day process of police work. None of the eight members of the OCPC have practical police experience. Five are lawyers, one is a retired educator, another is a professor of criminology and one, other than being a university graduate, has a previous career which is, on the face of the supplied resume, vague.

There is considerable expertise within this group on how to hold a charitable community campaign, consultancy and how to resolve a wide array of dispute resolutions, but the bulk of cumulative knowledge appears to centre on lawyers and criminology.

In the case of the southwestern Ontario police agency, the two people who decided the future policing for 23,000 citizens had the following on their resume. * Associate professor in the School of Criminal Justice at Ryerson University, holds a PhD in criminology from the Centre of Criminology at the University of Toronto. Involved in a wide range of community projects and agencies; has consulted to federal, provincial and local governments on a variety of justice issues. Research interests include policing, Aboriginal justice and victimology. * Legal director of the Ontario Insurance Commission (OIC) for four years; worked for ten years with the Legal Services Branch of the Ministry of Correctional Services, including six years as legal director. Was called to the bar in Ontario in 1980. Former president of the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR) and is a member of the Board of Canadian Administrative Tribunals (CCAT).

Their talent, no doubt, excels in many areas and ways. There is little doubt they can be of invaluable assistance in the deliberations but ... where’s the beef? Their talents appear to be lacking when it comes to the real questions of ability to police a community now and into the future. If the entire needs of a police service depends on statistics and price point, there should be no problem with these people’s determination. Delivering policing to a community, however, requires considerably more than looking at the sticker price.

The Ontario Police Services Act begins with six “declarations of principles.” Although the first five sections reflect the traditional and more modern day expectations of police, the sixth comes close to my point. It states the need to “ensure that police forces are representative of the communities they serve.”

This concept is a new addition to the act but one that municipal police have informally recognized since Sir Robert Peel put out a call to the London citizenry to select police constables from among their own numbers. Although representation of the community make-up was little considered in a formal sense, it is one factor which should be considered deeply today.

With the ever-changing makeup of any particular detachment, is there an eye toward representing the make up of the “community” to be policed? Representation should be an objective endeavour. Just check out Stats Can and see what pops up. Problems quickly arise when we subjectively try to determine what a “community” is before we go anywhere else. It is interesting to consider which police service – federal, provincial or municipal – can best honour this provision.

There has been much angst, rancour and hostility caused by the Ontario costing process. It has divided communities and pitted municipal and provincial agencies against each other. This has been aggravated by a weak OCPC administration which simply looks at numbers and statistics as a basis for killing agencies with long and good standing within their communities.

A simple beginning point for any municipality wishing to have a “costing study” should be asking “Why do you want to get rid of your police service?” If it is just to save money then some quick advice on fiscal restraint might spare the community and service a lot of angst.

When picking adjudicators, the province would do well to heed the advice of Maurice Hughes, a distinguished Northern Ireland political statesman who served on the Patten Commission. He observed that “if economics is the dismal science, criminology is the hopeless one.”

Bodies tasked with reviewing police services must include arbitrators with some working knowledge of police work.

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