In response to today’s London Free Press article regarding the recently released Annual Report from Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU), I thought that I might offer up an alternative version of the same story from someone who spent a fair bit of time inside the walls of the London Police Service governing the conduct of its members. It is my hope that this alternative narrative provides our community with a more positive perspective to the tone and tenor contained in today’s front-page story.
“London Police involved in only 10 SUI investigations this year”
Members of the London Police Service were involved in only 10 investigations this year according to the recently released Annual Report by the Ontario Special Investigations Unit.
“The low number is impressive” said Paul Paolatto, former Budget Chair for the London Police Service, “especially when one considers that our members received and responded to over 113,000 calls for service last year and filed over 26,000 criminal charges during that same 12-month period. That’s a lot of client contacts, any one of which could lead to an investigation.”
The investigation statistics show that SIU conducted 10 investigations in London, a number that is relatively comparable on a per capita basis to the 13 investigations conducted in Waterloo and the 17 investigations conducted this year in both Hamilton and Niagara.
Seven of the 10 London investigations were related to custody complaints, a complaint usually filed by someone facing charges, who may be objecting to the perceived treatment they received in the course of their arrest. The other three investigations related to a shooting death, a vehicle accident and a sexual assault allegation respectively. It is important to point out that a large percentage of investigations are triggered automatically. For example, the December 23rd shooting on Duchess Ave automatically generated a SIU investigation, the only police shooting death in the entire province.
It is also worth noting that of the 327 SIU investigations conducted this year throughout Ontario, only 6-percent resulted in any charges. The SIU Annual Report does not provide information on the status of those charges and/or if any of the charges actually led to any disciplinary action.
Mr. Paolatto did acknowledge that in the past, if charges were laid as the result of any investigation, SIU or otherwise, the London Police Services Board and Executives have always addressed such matters firmly and fairly.
Mr. Paolatto continued “while the Board would prefer zero investigations, it recognizes the importance of an independent body reviewing such matters, (ideally in a timely manner) to ensure that the police are conducting themselves in a manner consistent with the law.”
Mr. Paolatto concluded his comments by saying; “Collectively, we should be very proud of our team here in London. The remarkably low number of investigations relative to the massive number of police-public contacts undertaken by our members each year, many of which can be characterized as quite challenging, demonstrates that our members take their responsibilities very seriously and are committed to delivering the highest quality service to our community.”
I recognize and respect the vital role our media plays informing the public and providing important checks and balances over the conduct of those in a position of authority and influence. I also recognize that the above narrative pales in interest especially when compared to the slightly more jaded version appearing on today’s front page. I also appreciate the need for all of us to carefully consider any such investigation with an appropriate level of rigor and seriousness. However, in preparing the above alternative story line, it is my hope that we simply do not lose our perspective and/or install in our system of checks and balances a metric that holds any of us to the impossible standard of absolute perfection.
On balance, and as borne out by the data provided in the SIU Annual Report, police officers in London, and for that matter across the province, do an exceptional job, often in exceptional circumstances. Given the risks they face each day, in my view, it is not unreasonable to ask that the Free Press or any media outlet to focus on real issues that might arise from these day-to-day interactions, and avoid looking for a negative spin inside of a rather good news story.