Earlier this week -- a list of recommendations on how to improve the Ontario Police Complaints system was released in downtown Toronto. The initiative was made possible after University of Waterloo's Professor, Jennifer Schulenberg, received a Public Outreach Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. The professor reflects with me on some of the recommendations.
Professor Schulenberg, tell me about yourself.
I received my PhD from the University of Waterloo, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto, and worked in the United States for four years prior to accepting a position in the Department of Sociology and Legal Studies at the University of Waterloo in 2008. I am a recipient of the Governor General's Academic Gold Medal for my research on policing and youth crime in Canada (2005).
I have conducted research in the United States and Canada on police practice, police decision-making and discretion, youth crime, persons with a mental illness interacting with the criminal justice system, police culture, and police-community relations. I have conducted over 1,500 hours of ride hours in patrol cars which has given me a unique perspective on police work and calls for service (e.g. over 50% are non-crime related such as calls for assistance).
I served as an Associate Editor of the Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice from 2004-2010.
Tell me about the Ontario Police Complaints System Forum and the report that was released earlier this week.
The Ontario Police Complaints System Forum: Perspectives from the community, police and policy-makers (26-27 November 2012) and was Co-chaired by Scadding Court Community Centre and myself (University of Waterloo). Funding supporting this initiative came from a Public Outreach Grant awarded to me from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, and funding to Scadding Court Community Center from the Law Foundation of Ontario and the City of Toronto.
The Forum was the first opportunity for stakeholders to meet in a large public venue to review the work of the OIPRD since its inception in 2009. The aim of the Forum was to create an inclusive space for collaborative dialogue between stakeholders to identify ways in which the police complaints system can involve and move forward better serving the community and law enforcement.
Traditional boundaries of power, education, status, and culture were crossed to work in collaboration with one another toward a common goal of identifying challenges and opportunities in order to improve the police complaints system. Common themes from group discussions included a general fear of reporting, anonymous complaints, concerns on accessibility, analyses of system issues within the review process, questions about neutrality of the OIPRD, and oversight of the OIPRD.
Future Directions for the Ontario Police Complaints System: Recommendations from the Community, Police and Policy-makers (17 September 2013) are to report to the Office of the Independent Police Review Director of Ontario (OIPRD) and the Attorney General of Ontario. 57 specific recommendations emerged from the collaborative discussions that were amalgamated thematically into 28 final recommendations. The final recommendations focus specifically on actions the OIPRD can take to improve the police complaints system and they incorporate the perspectives of all stakeholder groups who participated in the Forum.
The open dialogue that occurred between stakeholder groups helps to position the Forum and this report as a strong vehicle to provide clear direction to different levels of government and the OIPRD on what needs to be addressed to improve the effectiveness and confidence in the police complaints system in Ontario.
What are some of the findings as well as solutions presented in the report?
Three common themes reflected in the recommendations (recommendation examples)
are Public outreach and accessibility. It appears many community members do not know that the OIPRD exists let alone how to go about filing a complaint. Unfortunately, the OIPRD does not have adequate resources to support the outreach mechanisms needed to ensure accessibility to the police complaints system.
Produce materials in multiple languages and ensure the system addresses physical, visual, and audio accessibility issues. Harness community organizations to assist with increasing accessibility to the system.
Procedures need to be put into place to ensure more communication to all parties throughout the investigation process.Amendments to the OIPRD Rules of Procedure and the Police Services Act to increase accessibility (e.g. more flexible on the 6 month filing cut-off date) and also allow for the OIPRD to advertise in traditional and social media outlets to increase awareness and accessibility.
Conduct a review on the effectiveness of the police complaints system. Allow for anonymous complaints so trends and systemic issues can be identified and addressed.
Both the community and law enforcement felt it critical to make more use of informal resolution and mediation. Equally important to police and the public is to improve the complaint screening process to reduce the number of false complaints while ensuring clear reasons are communicated to complainants for investigative decisions (one way to increase transparency). Increase the number of cases investigated by the OIPRD, rather than police services.
Tell me about some of the groups that were involved.
The 28 final recommendations are the product of a collaborative effort of over 150 delegates from the community at-large, over 60 community organizations, and nine police services from across the province. The Forum engaged a wide cross-section of delegates from grassroots community groups, government officials, youth leaders, law enforcement, academics, and marginalized groups (newcomers, racialized, low-income, persons with a mental illness, etc.).
These individuals are dedicated and passionate to see the system evolve and move forward. Delegates participated in two days of productive discussions on sensitive but very important topics. Based on survey and focus group results, most delegates felt engaged in the process of reform with their voice heard by other stakeholders involved in the system. Many noted a greater appreciation of the role of the police and police enforcement strategies and the fear associated with filing police complaints.
Now that the report is done and presented, what are the next stages?
I think Recommendation 28 is important when considering the next steps. It states: "Report on OIPRD actions to implement recommendations from the Forum, perhaps in annual reports.Recommend the OIPRD holds regular consultations with the community and the police to ensure that information is shared and concerns are heard in the future from all stakeholder groups equally.
It is also important to remember that an effective, accountable, accessible, and transparent police complaints system helps to strengthen police-community relations, reduce barriers between the community and the police, increase trust and confidence for both groups, and to identify and improve policing practice. In my view, for the system to evolve and be effective and responsive to Ontarians, we need more outreach and dissemination of information not only on the police complaints system but the perspectives and experiences of stakeholders.
Finally, we need to continue the open dialogue between law enforcement and the community to ensure that the police complaints system is effective, accessible to the diverse population in Ontario, especially vulnerable, marginalized populations, and that the voices of all stakeholders in the system are heard to truly collaboratively create systems change.That is, in order to achieve meaningful outcomes, a responsive and effective police complaints system we need to keep this dialogue between the community and law enforcement open and ongoing. Monitor the steps taken to implement the recommendations.
Recommendation 27 has already come to fruition with the Claybourn decision.