A Case for Enhanced Community Policing

Late last week, I tweeted out the following in response to an alarming and particularly violent swarming incident that took place in South London as described here in this CTV news report.  https://london.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=1754015

The tweet read as follows:

This problem seems to be getting worse. I supported new carding legislation during my tenure on the @ldnpoliceboard despite the concerns of our @lpsmediaoffice members.  Perhaps it is time to revisit the legislation and return some measure of law & order to our #ldnont streets.

As someone who has been a victim of a swarming attack myself, I can vividly recall how helpless and terrifying it feels to be on the ground, kicked and beaten by a group of attackers, wondering “Why me?” As a former member of the London Police Board, I also know that our city’s officers feel a similar sense of helplessness, knowing that their ability to respond to such incidents has been severely restricted as a result of changes to the Ontario Police Services Act Regulation 58/16 Collection of Identifying Information In Certain Circumstances (C2I).

Conversations around reforms to legislation, that have in the past permitted police officers to randomly card individuals, are often emotionally- and politically-charged given the very serious impacts that such legislation has had on racialized communities. To be clear, I have never been nor will ever be supportive of any legislation that re-introduce the practice of random carding.  My voting record as a member of London’s Police Service Board is one that very clearly demonstrated support for legislation that prohibits random carding.

In the same vein, I believe that in order to maximize the effectiveness and fairness of public policy, we must support its evolution and improvement.  As it pertains to policing, we in Ontario can now draw from the experiences of our police as they have attempted to ‘operationalize’ the Regulation 58/16 over the past 2.5 years.  The first step in this important evolution was taken by the Provincial Government when it commissioned Justice Michael Tulloch to produce a report on Regulation 58/16 and its impact on stakeholders inside and outside the policing community.    https://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/Policing/StreetChecks/ReportIndependentStreetChecksReview2018.html

The recommendations set out in Justice Tulloch’s report address many of the gaps that exist between the effectiveness of the legislation in its current form, and the responsibilities that police have to serve and protect our communities. It is one that actually responds to many of the concerns, fears, and frustrations that have been expressed both in CTV’s news story, and many community consultations (both formal and informal) that our city has seen in recent years.

Having served on London’s Police Board, I believe that I have a unique background that lends additional credibility to my perspective and proposals.  During my tenure, I was one of only two Board members that joined our frontline officers in the Regulation 58/16 training, which was a part of the implementation process.  I attended this session so that I could better understand what our officers would face in the field and how these reforms might impact their duties.  In addition to the above training and my normal Board responsibilities, I attended over 30 independent governance and operational training events during my tenure, including nearly a dozen in-field engagements with the Emergency Response Unit, the Canine Unit, the Community Response Unit, Dispatch, and the Gangs and Guns Unit.  I accompanied police teams into our back alleys, under our bridges, and into the heart of our city’s crime hotspots to see what they see and understand the challenges they face.

After taking the training and experiencing first hand the impact of this new regulation on our police response efforts, I have come to fully understand the frustrations our officers might feel as they work to overcome the shortfalls of the current legislation.  The rules are so restrictive, confusing, professionally risky and excessively bureaucratic, that most officers find themselves barred from engaging in many of the important forms of proactive policing.  I also know, having spent months knocking on thousands of doors in many of our city’s crime “hot spots” in the last year, that many Londoners have come to experience first hand the ramifications of a “handcuffed” police force, and become quite vocal in making their frustrations with the ineffectiveness of community policing measures known. And who can blame them?

So what can be done?

Implement the Tulloch Recommendations

First and foremost, the current Provincial Government should proceed with the implementation of any number of the 104 recommendations outlined in Justice Tulloch’s report, many of which will help more clearly define both acceptable and unacceptable conduct.

This includes recommendations that the Regulation expressly state:

  • “No police officer should arbitrarily or randomly stop individuals to request their identifying information.” (Recommendation 5.1)
  • “…that it does not apply to attempts to confirm the identity of an individual who matches the description of a missing person, human trafficking victim or other victim of crime.” (Recommendation 5.8)
  • “…that it does not apply to interactions that have a community-building purpose, meaning on-duty police contact with members of the community meant to foster positive relationships and/or assist members of the public without gathering identifying information for an investigative or intelligence purpose.” (Recommendation 5.9)
  • “…does not apply with respect to an attempted collection made by a police officer for the purpose of investigating an offence the officer reasonably suspects has been, is being or will be committed, and the person from whom the identifying information is requested appears to have some connection to the offence whether as a suspect or as someone who has helpful information about the offence.” (Recommendation 5.12)

This latter point is particularly important because it supports the application of street checks in select circumstances – when the officer has subjective AND objective reasonable grounds to clearly articulate a reason to seek identifying information, knowing that the questioned individual can still refuse to provide such information without consequence.

I also recommend that the Province eliminate or curtail the regulation’s requirement for an officer to issue a receipt to an individual should they be asked for their identification. This is a time consuming, bureaucratic process that detracts from more valuable police work and actually impedes proactive policing.

Expand London’s Community Policing Efforts

In addition to taking part in police training activities where possible, I strongly encourage current London Police Service Board members to consider advocating for the implementation of another Tulloch recommendation, namely:

Police services should be provided with adequate funding to allow for greater community involvement and to support other models of community policing that enable police officers to spend some time each day in the community. (Recommendation 12.1)

While I recognize that many London taxpayers may shutter at the thought of expanding the police budget to include more front line officers, it is critical that our police service – particularly those serving as members of London’s Community Response Unit (i.e. foot patrols) – is able to focus on building relationships and not just responding to crime.  Dedicating more resources to these efforts accomplishes three things:

  • Better response times to residents and merchants in the downtown core and other high-density neighbourhoods (OEV, Argyle) who regularly plead for the expansion of our foot patrol program.
  • Increasing the capacity of our officers to routinely engage with the public in “hot spot” areas, which helps to establish trusting relationships and improved community dialogue
  • Proactive enhancement of public safety at a much lower overall cost to the system.

As it currently stands, with the exception of a handful of existing officers assigned to foot patrol, our current complement of 600 front line officers is 100% occupied responding to calls for service and investigations. Should I have been sitting on the Police Service Board today, I would recommend the recruitment of 25-30 officers as well as the addition of another mobile mental health response unit to support our current complement of Foot Patrol officers.  If London can secure the funding to provide this level of service – be it through the municipal budget or provincial funding – this substantial level of investment could restore some level of protection of our core constituents at a lower system cost. This approach has been highly effective in other major centres, and with the right commitment could improve things here.

There is no reason why Londoners need to live with a sense of fear, frustration or anxiety for the safety of themselves and their families. It is incumbent upon those entrusted with the governance of our police services to: (i) provide our officers with the tools/resources they need to effectively perform their duties, and (ii) balance this responsibility with appropriate limits on police power to preserve our public trust in the service.  It was with these reasons in mind that I supported Regulation 58/16 in the first place.  It is also why I remain an advocate for the adoption of Justice Tulloch’s recommendations as noted above.

London is fortunate to have an excellent team of professionals committed to our public safety.  Let’s do what we can to help them continue their work on our collective behalf.  The investment will surely pay for itself and more importantly…

We owe it to each other.  We owe it to ourselves.