Categorized | Editorial

Make police chiefs obey board policies: Editorial

Posted on 26 November 2015 by admin

A major issue remains unresolved even as regulations to fix “carding” move well beyond the halfway point of a 45-day public review. It doesn’t involve specific proposed reforms, but rather the power of local police boards to implement change.

Simply put, some police chiefs have blatantly refused to carry out modifications to carding. And as a result, there needs to be clarity on precisely who is in charge of Ontario’s municipal police forces — civilian governing boards or the chiefs themselves?

It will be hard to deliver lasting improvement if chiefs remain free to obfuscate and block reform at the local level. That’s why the Ontario Association of Police Services Boards is right to call for more authority for its members. Civilian oversight boards need clear and explicit power to ensure that their policy directives are, in fact, carried out.

That hasn’t happened in the past, especially on the divisive issue of carding or “street checks.” When members of the Peel Police Services Board voted to suspend the controversial practice this fall, Chief Jennifer Evans flatly refused to obey the group’s instruction. “Street checks will continue in Peel,” she informed the board.

Former Toronto police chief Bill Blair wasn’t quite so blunt when his board passed a series of carding policy reforms last year. The changes would have required officers to have a valid public safety reason for stopping people to ask a series of often-intrusive questions. Individuals who were stopped were to be informed of their right to walk away without giving answers, and officers were supposed to issue a receipt to anyone who was carded, recording details of the interaction.

Ironically, such changes form the basis of new Ontario regulations designed to “expressly prohibit the random and arbitrary collection of identifying information by police.” This is a sound and long overdue policy shift. But when Blair was presented with similar reforms in April, 2014, he failed to carry them out. He waffled and dithered for almost a year and then attempted a watered-down compromise that succeeded only in angering advocates who were demanding real change.

Alok Mukherjee, former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, explained that he initially backed Blair’s inadequate half-measure in order to end a “standoff” that could have resulted in costly litigation. “Nobody wants to go to war with the chief,” Mukherjee said. But nobody should have to do that – certainly not the members of a civilian board who have been given the specific task of overseeing a police service.

Unfortunately, there’s a jurisdictional grey area in policing that’s causing this confusion. Civilian boards aren’t supposed to meddle in the day-to-day operation of a police service. This makes good sense — a civilian panel doesn’t have the expertise, for example, to investigate a homicide. But intransigent chiefs have cited their operational independence to resist policies they don’t like, such as reform of carding, and that goes too far.

As reported by the Star’s Wendy Gillis, Ontario’s police services boards want the province to end the vagueness that now exists and make it explicitly clear that chiefs must implement policies set by the boards that oversee them. Queen’s Park shouldn’t hesitate to do so.

The principle of civilian oversight of police is poorly served when top officers are allowed to ignore policy directives issued by a duly empowered board. Chiefs shouldn’t set the rules; their job is to enforce them.

Leave a Reply

Advertise Here
Advertise Here