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Driving a culture of innovation in public safety: Q&A with Deputy Shawna Coxon

June 14, 2020  By Staff

Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief of Police Shawna Coxon. Photo: TPS

Toronto Police Service (TPS) Deputy Chief of Police Shawna Coxon touched base with Blue Line back in April for a special podcast episode. Coxon, who has a PhD in Criminal Law, started the Computer Cyber Crime (C3) section, a service-wide initiative addressing social media, open source investigative techniques, training, technology procurement and cyber-related threats and opportunities. She spoke with us about how TPS was handling pandemic pressures, details on cybercrime in the time of COVID-19 and her commitment to analytics excellence in policing. We bring you clips from that conversation here.

Q: How has TPS been doing in these unprecedented times as we continue to grapple with the coronavirus pandemic?

We are really focused — myself and the rest of the command team and the chief. We’re still here every day at headquarters. We’re making decisions very quickly, trying to make sure that we can keep the community safe as well as all of our members. I’ve been going on a daily basis to different divisions and units in the city and I’m so proud of the men and women of the Toronto Police Service. You really see how, during difficult times, they rise up their professionalism; you see their ability to just jump in and adapt, and do what needs to be done.

Q: With your expertise in the cyber realm, tell us more about what you’re seeing there during the pandemic? What should police be aware of?

Certainly, attacks are up and they’re up everywhere — not just in Canada. Agencies need to be thinking not just about the number of attacks and how that affects the community, but also the fact that, as police agencies, we are all high value targets… It’s just like when we look at terrorist attacks; people get very focused on the first attack and responding to that. Meanwhile, it may actually be pre-emptive to a secondary attack. So, as we deal with a pandemic, it’s really important police agencies across Canada focus on what may happen within the pandemic… in terms of people taking advantage of the fact that communities are at home, more people are working at home. As a result, they’re using technology that isn’t as secure.

I think we need a totally new model for cybercrime because it doesn’t fit in the way that other types of offences do — in terms of investigations…


This is true in the policing sector as well. We have to look at what we’re using, what’s appropriate for members to use at home, and we have to be prepared for the fact that we may have other events within the pandemic, which may challenge us.

Q: Last summer, TPS released details about a new public safety Digital Tech Transformation project named the Analytics Centre of Excellence (ANCOE) and you’re the command sponsor of this project. What is the overall goal?

It’s really about supporting the public safety priorities of the service by using excellence in analytics. What that means is we’re having to do things more strategically. We look at Big Data and ask what information is relevant, what information isn’t relevant? How do you actually image information in a way that makes sense to the end users, which, in our organization, are often the frontline officers, or investigators who need to be able to process that information and use it effectively?

That’s really the broader purpose of it, but we’re also interested in driving a culture of innovation in public safety.

Q: What would you like to see happen when it comes to cybercrime and law enforcement investigations, training, etc. down the road?

I think we need a totally new model for cybercrime because it doesn’t fit in the way that other types of offences do — in terms of investigations, I mean. It’s a matter of increasing our collaboration with unique partners, like we saw with Trace Labs and DEFCON Toronto.

It’s also about getting the right skills and the right people hired that have those skills; I’m not sure that they can come through traditional policing methods… The question is always do you hire a tech person and train them to be a police officer — and the skills of doing things like testifying in court and maintaining good notes, etc.? Are they hard to teach? Or do you do it the other way where you take someone and you train them as a police officer, and then you train them in cybercrime skills? The fact is, the technology is changing so rapidly, you need people who can continuously learn. A model that is more hybrid, that would allow us to have officers working with cyber experts in investigations, is something I think we really need to try to get a handle on in the long term.

We have to build a model that actually reflects cyber criminals and what they’re doing. Currently, our model is just a little bit too traditional, a little bit too slow. We’ll get there, but it’s very difficult to catch up with that space.

Listen to the SoundCloud link at for the full podcast conversation with Deputy Coxon or wherever you get your podcasts by searching for Annex Business Media: Podcasts.

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