It’s time for proper police oversight

Posted on June 22, 2020 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors

The overarching theme in the nine principles of law enforcement issued by Robert Peel is that the legitimacy of police depends on public approval of its operations and that the use of force should always be a last resort.

“The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it,” he states.

Who is Robert Peel? A member of Black Lives Matter? A left of centre councillor in Minneapolis?

No, Sir Robert Peel was a British politician who wrote these principles in 1829, when he was Home Secretary and formed the Metropolitan Police Force in London.

You will find them on the website of virtually every police force in Canada. Yet anyone who reads the principles will notice a disconnect between Peel’s core values and the current state of policing.

The blame, in part, lies with politicians at all levels in Canada, police boards unwilling to perform their legislated oversight duties and even the judiciary.

Police forces routinely reject attempts to justify any action they consider to be “operational”in nature, even in areas that may appear cosmetic, such as darkening the colour of police uniforms and vehicles. There is rarely pushback, including at the highest levels of our courts.

A stark example is the words of Justice Thomas Cromwell, writing for the majority in a 2010 Supreme Court of Canada case involving balaclava-wearing, heavily armed Calgary police carrying out a “no-knock” entry in a drug case. A small amount of drugs were found. No weapons. The only person in the residence was the suspect’s mentally challenged brother. The role of courts reviewing police conduct “is not to become a Monday morning quarterback,” he wrote.

In the area of police budgets and staffing levels, municipalities are supposed to call the shots, but that is not what happens.

Defund the police? In Canada, it is more a case of trying to rein in salary increases.

Police boards and politicians do not stand up to police unions in contract negotiations. Once there is a wage hike or expanded benefits, every other police union demands it as well and as a result of the existing arbitration process, they win.

Ontario Provincial Police officers can become a first-class constable and earn a base salary of just under $100,000 within four years of being hired. It’s the same for municipal police officers across the province. On the recruitment page of its website, Peel police tout its expansive benefits and state “the pay is great.”

In Toronto, the police budget has risen by 38 per cent since 2010, almost all of which is a result of salary increases and expanded benefits.

The number of unformed officers necessary to meet a community’s public safety standard is called “established strength.” Police, police boards and city council decide on this number. How they determine it remains a mystery.

Christian Luprecht, a professor at the Royal Military College, who has written extensively on policing costs, described it as a political bargain that “tells us nothing about what the staffing should be,” in a Globe and Mail article in 2014.

In that same article, the then-Toronto Police Services Board chair, Alok Mukherjee, rejected any call for significant cuts to uniformed police, referring to it as a “meat cleaver” approach instead of an informed review [full disclosure: I was the reporter of that article].

But why aren’t significant staffing reductions part of any review. In 2018, there were just over 140,000 police reported Criminal Code offences in Toronto, two-thirds of which were property crimes, according to the police statistical report. That works out to less than three offences per officer per month. The overall clearance rate, which means an arrest has been made, was just under 40 per cent. Despite this data, Toronto police have received approval for an overall staffing increase of 10 per cent in the past three years.

What is happening in Toronto is by no means unique. Police will fight any budget cuts. Last month, the chief constable in Vancouver protested loudly about a one per cent decrease to the budget and salary freeze this year, approved by city council.

There will be no meaningful reform unless politicians and police boards fulfil their oversight responsibilities, including legislative changes at the provincial level.

Also, to go forward, it means going back to 1829. Police should be required to earn the respect of the public, both in its operations and its budgets — not the other way around.

Shannon Kari is a freelance writer in Toronto who has reported extensively on criminal justice issues.

Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Monday, June 22nd, 2020 at 1:07 pm and is filed under Governance Debates. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply